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Crisis Communications

From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, most of us are familiar with crisis situations. We can probably list situations that have occurred in our own cities or communities. Preventive measures are the best way to avoid crises, but sometimes they occur unforeseen. Fires and accidents, plant closings and layoffs, and environmental damage are only a few of the situations that companies are forced to deal with, often with little notice. Even problems on a smaller scale can have a detrimental effect on an organization, its employees, and the community.

Being prepared for a crisis is second best only to avoiding one altogether. No matter what the situation or size of the crisis, a crisis communications plan is vital. Planning may make the difference between success and failure. I consulted with Al Czarnecki, a crisis communications specialist; here is his list on how to prepare for a crisis.

Crisis Communications - Readiness Checklist

These ten items should be in place PRIOR to a crisis situation. This is of great help in maintaining poise and being able to concentrate on your top priority, the crisis response plan.

1. Public relations policy and procedures.
A statement of mandate, values, program, leadership.

2. Crisis communications action plan.
Key people, roles, action sequences, scenarios.

3. 'Big Picture' information piece on every major program.
This could be your annual report.

4. 'Window' information piece on every major program.
Content and being up-to-date is most important. Can be kept as text files and printed on special masthead.

5. Reference files on potential crisis situations.
Minutes, reports, clippings - indexed and portable.

6. Key person list.
Work and home phone numbers, one page job summary and one page bio - board, senior management, senior person at every physical location - indexed and portable.

7. Designated spokesperson(s).
Establish default assignments prior to a crisis. Arrange for everyone to have some public speaking experience. These people and your public relations counsel should know each other.

8. Designated media coordination.
This function should be established as credible and helpful with BOTH your staff and the media prior to a crisis. Trust is an outstanding asset in the midst of mayhem.

9. Media directory or detailed list.
Bowdens, Matthews, or your own contact database. You should have a concise list of the major media and your public relations counsel at home with your key spokespeople.

10. Media contact log.
You can have a dozen or more newspapers and radio and television stations on the go at one time. Keep a separate tracking sheet for every journalist/story. Know who contacted you, when, about what, how to contact them, what their deadline is, what you promised, who you've delegated to, when they're due to get back to you, whether you need to follow up.

Al Czarnecki is an accredited public relations professional with 30 years experience. You can find tips and resources on public relations and social marketing at his website:

See also:
A Crisis by Any Other Name
Crisis Communications Checklist
Surviving and Thriving in a Crisis
In Times of Crisis