In California, earthquakes are a fact of life. We don’t know when the next one will happen, or where it will be centered. But we know we can count on there being more of them, which is why many people have earthquake preparedness kits in their homes. It makes sense to have a plan and resources in place for a problem you know is eventually going to come up. So, why don’t more people take this same approach when it comes to crisis communications?

Almost a third of all businesses do not have a documented business continuity plan. When you consider that fewer than 10% of businesses survive a major disaster without a business continuity plan, it’s surprising to consider how few organizations have robust business continuity plans—including crisis communications plans—for their businesses.

In addition to California and our earthquakes, there are states prone to blizzards, flooding, tornadoes and other extreme weather scenarios? No to mention other urgent business issues such as executive misconduct, senior leadership resignations, and other common workplace issues. If you’re not proactively planning for how to handle these and other predictable urgent issues, you may be creating a future crisis for your organization.

Proactively Plan for Common Urgent Issues

While there’s no way to anticipate every potential crisis that can come your way, there are a number of known crisis scenarios that it is likely your company will have to respond to at some point. Here are a few urgent issues your crisis communications plan should address:

1. Extreme Weather

Major weather events including tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and blizzards all have the potential to adversely affect your business. If you have offices and employees in these areas, you’ll need to prepare internal and external communications plans for dealing with office closures or an inability to access offices, disruption in shipping products or mailing statements to customers, and extending assistance to customers in affected areas. Prepare resources to help your employees navigate these stressful situations in a safe manner, and to help them feel prepared to assist your customers too.

Power Outage

Whether it happens as a result of extreme weather, an accident on your grid, or power company issues, a power outage can greatly limit your company’s ability to serve your customers. You’ll want to plan to communicate whether or not you have backup generators, what services are affected by the power outage, and how you will accommodate and communicate to customers when the power is back on.

Cyber Attacks

More than 184 million ransomware attacks were carried out in 2017. Meanwhile, the number of cyber attacks against businesses nearly doubled from 82,000 in 2016 to 159,700 in 2017. Your communications team needs to understand how a cyber attack could affect your ability to serve customers, and how your technology team will be able to circumvent such attacks and restore things to business as usual.

Data Breaches

As a consumer, I’m all too aware of how easy it is for my personal data to be breached. Whether it’s due to hackers hitting up big companies like Equifax, Target, and Yahoo, or an employee losing a laptop full of customer data, it’s an incredibly common and upsetting occurrence. While you can’t anticipate the precise details, you can prepare a data breach microsite and customer and employee communications that detail what you need to disclose in such cases and outline any resources you are making available to those affected (such as credit monitoring).

Website Issues

What happens if your website goes down? Ideally, you will have an alternate server location prepared to host your domain and a notice of the disruption. You can also have a standalone website status monitoring service customers can use to find out the status of your website. You’ll need to map out the corporate channels available for your communications, and optimize for speed of communication. You want to be the first one on social to mention your outage, as well as the first one to sound the all clear when the site has been restored to service.

An Urgent Communications Plan in Action

At a former company, we had a number of customer-facing offices in areas that regularly experienced extreme weather. For each of the different extreme weather types, our urgent communications plan included the following templates:

  • An intranet post tracking the offices impacted and any closures and including talking points for customer-facing employees, the key employees involved in the response to such issues, and a calling tree for escalating issues
    An internal email that notified employees about affected offices and employees, and linked to the intranet post for updates
  • An internal email update to keep everyone involved in the issue’s response informed of the status of the issue on a daily or more frequent basis.
  • A blog post that told customers about affected offices and what their other options for service were until the offices reopened
  • An email to customers that provided a brief explanation of the issue and linked to the blog post as a source for updates
  • Social media copy that provided a high-level description of the issue and linked to the customer blog post

Having these communications drafted in advance—with a clearly defined communications plan and pre-identified stakeholders—made it easy to quickly address these issues and avoid customer complaints. Yes, we frequently made improvements to the process and the templates, but the basic plan and its templates were put to use without major changes for several years.

As communicators, there never feels like enough time in the day. So it may be tempting to put off proactively planning for urgent issues that may not strike while you’re on the clock. However, if you want to earn a seat at the leadership table, and save yourself some stress at the same time, making time for proactive urgent communications planning is an opportunity you won’t want to miss.

For a complete guide on how to handle crisis—or better yet, avert it altogether—read our ebook. It covers how to use media intelligence to spot the early warning signs, manage and monitor crisis every step of the way, and ultimately take a data-driven approach to learning from mistakes.