Keeping Communication Open
Crisis is a broad term, and it can apply to too many scenarios. Despite that, the best response to pretty much every problem imaginable is to keep channels of communication open. The best channels will of course depend on the situation, so you want to investigate the integrity of all of them.
You need to have a clear picture of what can and will knock out your email, hard-line internet, cellular connections, cans with strings attached to them and anything else you use to stay in touch within your business and with your clients.
This boils down to having direct conversations with your service providers. Now, you can’t account for every potential crisis, so you have to narrow the scope of threats. On the west coast, earthquakes and wildfires are more common issues. In Florida, you worry about hurricanes. Consider your own geography and get an honest assessment and management plan of action from your service providers. That’s step one.
The Essentials of a Good Plan
You should already know this, but crisis management mostly boils down to listening to the experts and following their advice. You need reliable channels of communication to know when to expect an evacuation, when it is better to bunker down and wait and how to coordinate relief efforts when the immediate danger passes.
The experts cannot nail down the specifics of your crisis management. That should be well mapped long before the first sign of any trouble.
A proper disaster plan can be broken into three parts: facility response, community response and rebuilding. A facility response plan is usually mandated by law. It has many names, but this is how you handle organized evacuations when the need arises. It should be in place for any place where people work, be that a main office, a data center or any other location. You should already have that part of crisis management mapped, so we won’t spend much time on it today.
Community response is where too many companies hold too much uncertainty. Let’s use an impending hurricane as a clear example. You typically get a fair amount of notice, and official evacuations are ordered long before hurricanes make landfall. Obviously, you need to comply with those notices…
But how should you interact with your community?
Should you blow through any cash reserves to pass out bottled water and help deliver sandbags?
Are you responsible for flying all of your employees to safety?
Most of all, how can you communicate any efforts to which you commit your company?
For most companies, what matters most is participating in the conversation to make sure everyone is aware of the danger. This might be as simple as retweeting hurricane warnings and evacuation zones. It can include spreading the message of relief centers and efforts, playing your part in helping the larger community stay coordinated.
If you have the means to donate more resources, feel free, but there are two pitfalls you want to avoid. Disasters are not opportunities. The most unscrupulous people in business will suggest otherwise, but ulterior motives have a way of rebounding and generating bad press. You don’t want to be the company that hiked prices to exploit people struggling to survive.
By that same token, you don’t want to be the insensitive company that bungled their social media during a disaster. Be extra careful of language. You don’t want to advertise the “perfect storm of sales” while people are fleeing a hurricane for their lives. Triple check every post, and you’ll be fine.
The Cost of IT Failure
Now, we can get to that third component of your disaster plan. If you get off with little or no damage, you can focus on rebuilding the community more than your own resources. Follow the principles from the previous section and you’ll be fine.
If you aren’t so lucky, you will have some major decisions to make. Theoretically, insurance can help you with this process, but your priorities will be the key to determining how well your business rebounds from crisis damage. Here’s a FEMA stat that will sober your thinking.
On average, a business that goes just nine days without access to information technology will have to declare bankruptcy. Now, you may not have complete control over that if power lines and cell towers go down, but it’s worth remembering when you plan your rebuilding strategy.
It would be nice if you could read this and have a perfect crisis plan already mapped and prepared, but the variety among businesses is just too big for a one-size-fits-all solution. Hopefully, this has highlighted some considerations that can help you refine your own plan and keep you and yours safe if disaster strikes.
About the Author: Nancy Peckham
Nancy began her career in telecommunications in 1983 as an account executive with Republic Telecom, a regional long distance carrier. She was named district sales manager for the Wisconsin region in 1987 when Republic Telecom was acquired by Mid American Communications. She recognized a need for independent, objective telecommunications consulting which led her founding Valicom. Since its launch in 1991, Valicom has been a leader in providing telecom expense management solutions and serves enterprise and mid-market clients in a variety of industries and verticals across the U.S. Nancy earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded and served as president of the Telecommunications Professionals of Wisconsin (TPW) from 1989-1992, and was executive vice president on the board of directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC). Nancy is also a founding member and executive council chair of the Independent Telecommunications Expense Management Association (i-TEM).