It is important to keep in mind that the time to think about how to respond is not when a crisis is occurring. A plan in a binder gathering dust on a shelf is no assurance of proper response. Key employees and managers must have in place a process to simulate crisis scenarios to ensure their ability to respond properly. Proper advance planning will help eliminate confusion and allow a company to focus on the crisis at hand.
Preparing for the unthinkable
It is often difficult for employees to "see the forest for the trees" when they have become too familiar and comfortable with their surroundings.
Outside experts can provide a vital perspective on how to prevent and respond to any potential situation before and during a crisis and will bring real-time experience to post-September 11 planning. This process also will help a facility create a crisis plan or assess the current plan. It can identify any existing holes in the plan, determine the plan's effectiveness against current threats and vulnerabilities, and assess the appropriateness of the people involved.
Crisis planning should include extensive scenario role-playing. Senior managers must be taught how to deal with each possible twist and turn within a particular crisis.
It is dangerous to assume managers will make the right decisions and take the best possible actions when the crisis occurs. Even the sharpest senior managers will benefit from an authentic simulation and its resulting critique.
Preparation and maintenance of a solid crisis plan must be a team effort. The senior executives responsible for your facility's information technology, legal (including outside counsel), risk management, human resources, operations, security and corporate communications departments must be trained together on crisis reaction, what steps to be taken by whom, and how to communicate with employees and external constituents.
Lines of communication among all department heads must make it clear what information can be disseminated and what information legally should not be released. The sidebar outlines some key steps to proper crisis planning.
In the months following the events of September 11, many firms that had intensified their focus on security and crisis management needs lost that focus when a follow-up attack failed to materialize.
Security, law enforcement and intelligence experts agree that more attacks are inevitable and that chemical facilities could be targets. Therefore, chemical plants should maintain a reasonable, cost-effective level of security and crisis-management preparedness at all times. CP
The "CARES" Process
The acronym "CARES" stands for the following five steps a facility should take during crisis planning and preparation:
1. Composure and collection of information: How composed were the executives after hearing and initially reacting to the crisis? Are the executives/managers on the scene capable and equipped to manage and pass on information? What information was collected and how was it collected? Did the executive collect enough vital information to properly assess the situation? What other sources of trustworthy information can we call on?
2. Assessment: Did the executives adequately assess the situation? For example, did the executives clearly assess the challenges and/or obstacles surrounding the situation and who might be affected? Is the information accurate and thorough? Are the full extent and scope of the crisis clear?
3. Reaction: What is the action plan, and how was this decision made? Were benchmarks created for success? How will personnel reactions and steps taken affect all constituencies and stakeholders in the near and long terms? What ripple effects might this crisis cause?
4. Evaluation: How effectively is the situation being evaluated, monitored and adjusted? Who is being notified and how? Based on new changes, how is the situation being evaluated? What new goals/benchmarks have been set? How do the various constituencies and stakeholders perceive the facility? How does the plant know the crisis is under control and subsiding?
5. Success: Once the crisis has subsided, how effectively is the success of the response measured? What changes to the crisis plan/process were made based on these metrics? How prepared is the facility for the next crisis? How will it prevent a recurrence here or elsewhere? Did the metrics prove effective in measuring the situation?
By implementing a program such as the CARES program, companies can truly measure how well a crisis team performed throughout any situation. Real recommendations can be provided as broadly or specifically as needed. CP
Moed is managing partner and co-founder of Peppercom, a strategic communications firm in New York, San Francisco and London that specializes in crisis management with an expertise in the chemical industry. Sem is president and founder of Sem Security Management and has more than 30 years of experience in the security and crisis management industry, including assessments of chemical facilities. Contact them at (212) 931-6116 and (815) 577-6833, respectively.