When Crisis Hits: Five Steps To Getting Your Company Through It

By Jeffrey W. Cavignac | September 28, 2010

A crisis can take many forms. It might involve a jobsite fatality or possibly a bomb threat, a major automobile accident, or a fire in one of your buildings.

When a crisis occurs, you need to act immediately. You need to know what to do and when to do it. You need to know who to notify and who to have involved. They need to understand their roles and what they are expected to do. Everyone needs to work together as a team.

Organizations that are proactive in crisis management may be able to protect lives, prevent damage and destruction to property, and save hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing the likelihood of lawsuits and diminished or lost performance and productivity. Unfortunately, many organizations are ill-prepared to face a crisis.

Crisis Management Planning

An action plan:

  • Maximizes the safety of your employees and the public
  • Minimizes the potential damage to both real and personal property
  • Lowers the likelihood of litigation
  • Minimizes any negative publicity

5 Major Crisis Planning Steps

  • Establish a Crisis Management Team The first step in the crisis management planning process is determining who to include in this process. In general, you'll want to consider the following potential members:
    Vice President[s] (Where Applicable)
    Director of Loss Control And Safety
    Director of Public/Media Relations or Public Relations Consultant
    Human Resource Manager
    Risk Manager
    Director of Finance
    Legal Advisors
    External Crisis Management Consultant
  • Crisis Analysis The Crisis Management Team should evaluate the potential crises that may face an organization. This "brainstorming" session seeks to identify risk factors and hazards which need to be addressed.
    Although it's virtually impossible to establish a contingency procedure for all potential crises, there are certain events which are more likely to affect an organization than others.
    Ideally, each department will review its operations for potential crises and what impact they may have on the business. Once these have been reviewed and established, a priority can be set for each of the crises to rank which would be more likely to occur, and which would present a more severe impact. For each crisis identified, specific policies and procedures should be developed and agreed upon.
  • Individual Responsibilities Responsibilities for the Crisis Management Team must be established and assigned.
    Team Leader — The Team Leader coordinates the Crisis Management Team, and in some cases serves as the team's spokesperson.
    Crisis Spokesperson — The role of the Spokesperson is to present official, accurate information to the media on behalf of the company. This individual should be educated in how best to approach the media.
    Safety Coordinator — The Safety Coordinator investigates the accident or event, takes statements from witnesses, and photographs and preserves evidence. Documentation immediately following a crisis is critical.
    Department Heads — Department Heads are able to provide the Crisis Management Team with some of the most immediate "expert" information about the cause of the crisis event. They can also play a vital role in identifying potential crisis scenarios involving their departments.
    Crisis Team Secretary — The Crisis Team Secretary is in charge of screening all calls and walk-in visitors, including reporters, photographers and others. The Team Secretary will keep a log of all calls and media visitors, including:
    • name of the person
    • person's title and organization
    • name of the newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station
    • telephone number where the inquirer can be reached
    • fax number where the inquirer can bereached
    • reporter's deadline

    The Team Secretary will only provide information that has been approved by the Spokesperson.
    Security — Oftentimes following a crisis, an area must be secured. This individual is responsible for securing the situation to not only protect against any future or additional accidents, but also to preserve evidence.
    Human Resources — The Human Resource Department can play a critical role in communicating with injured parties, their families and other staff.
    Legal Counsel — During a crisis situation, legal implications may be involved. Legal counsel should be part of the planning process, and should also be advising the Crisis Management Team subsequent to a crisis.

  • Training It is important that all members of the Crisis Management Team understand their specific roles. In addition, each role should have a backup in the event that the primary individual is not available.
    As mentioned earlier, it is critical that each member of the Crisis Management Team and every employee of the company, for that matter, understand who is responsible for which activities.
  • Review the Plan Review the Crisis Management Plan on a regular basis. Companies change, and their exposures to loss change. It is important that everyone who needs to be familiar with a Crisis Management Plan is, and that the content and procedures are updated on a regular basis as warranted.


An effective Crisis Management Plan is a critical component of your overall risk management program. Experience has shown that a company's chances of managing a crisis increase significantly with the amount of preparation, planning and training done before a crisis strikes.


Media Crisis Do's and Don'ts

DO designate a corporate spokesperson. Make sure reporters know who the spokesperson is. The corporate spokesperson should be the only one authorized to release information to the outside world. It is very important that the company speaks with one voice.

DO tell the truth. Be honest and accurate; don't speculate.

DO take control — if there is bad news, release it yourself first.

DO respond quickly. If you don't, the wrong story may be told, and that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to erase.

DO explain why you cannot talk. Say "We are still investigating." It is better than stonewalling. Do not say, "No comment," because it implies guilt.

DO emphasize the positive and communicate your corporate message. Remember to emphasize good safety measures taken, the minimal damage because of good teamwork by your employees, and what the company is doing to minimize the effect of the emergency on the community.

DO NOT talk about who is responsible. Whatever you say may become part of a legal issue. Avoid commenting on liability issues.

DO NOT make any accusations.

Jeff Cavignac is president of Cavignac & Associates, an insurance brokerage firm based in San Diego, California.