Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crisis Communication

As a certified Business Continuity Manager, I understand the need for prompt, accurate and consistent communication at the time of a crisis or other incident. A crisis is any situation that has the potential to significantly impact an organization. These crises also have the potential to fuel negative media coverage, thus affecting a company’s normal business operations which can lead to damaging financial, legal, regulatory or reputational impacts.

It is essential that the entities involved, such as management, emergency responders and public safety personnel, are able to coordinate with one another, assess the situation, and convey a concise message to affected parties that provides incident status, alternative solutions and timing for updates. Crisis management plans and programs are based on risk and impact analysis, assessment of most likely crisis scenarios, development of response scenarios and training exercises. Thus, crisis management deals with a company’s response both at the time of the incident and also ongoing activities that mitigate any damage to the company.

Crisis management plans themselves are the framework for command, control, coordination and communication within and external to an organization. Companies spend time, money and resources preparing for risk based scenarios, but it is equally important that be able to deal efficiently and quickly to unexpected crises that occur with no warning.

Although I work in the financial services industry and have written and tested crisis management plans for my firm, the financial services sector is not the only industry that is vulnerable to a crisis. Having a well documented, frequently tested and maintained business continuity and crisis management plan helps to mitigate the risks faced by the company. In addition, ongoing monitoring of these plans ensures that processes are functioning as anticipated, the risk controls in place are operational and risks are managed.

Based on experience, each entity should form a Crisis Management Team (CMT). The CMT should be representative of executive decision makers in the company – it should include the executive management, representatives from critical business units, legal representatives and also have members responsible solely for communication, especially with the media. The CMT should define its roles and responsibilities upfront so that at the time of an incident, people move into their roles and communication is seamless across multiple parties. As Commute-a-holic mentioned with the Massport example, simulation exercises can help hone their skills and responsiveness to the issue at hand.

Based on first hand accounts in the blog posts on Universal Hub, communication between public safety officials and emergency responders worked well. But it seems that the onsite communication between the MBTA/MBCR to stranded passengers on other trains or at train stations didn't work so well. I can’t specifically speak to what sort of continuity plans that MBTA/MBCR have in place, but it seems that if they did have a crisis management framework, that updates to passengers and the media would have been more reliable and accurate.

Train Rider

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