The Oh-So-Crucial Initial Procedures for When the Crisis Hits

Thom Weidlich 08.23.18


An important part of any crisis communications plan are the initial procedures — how a problem should be reported within the organization and how the crisis communications team should respond. The public now expects a company to communicate publicly within an hour of learning of a crisis. So these initial steps are not to be ignored.

For many crises, the first hour is crucial. The crisis communications team must gather quickly and make vital decisions.

One aid toward that goal is to determine ahead of time your organization’s “chain of information” for getting notice of the incident to the crisis team. Obviously, the whole organization (not just the crisis team) has to know how to report such incidents.

Remember that each time information is passed along to another person the chances increase that it will become distorted. And the more people involved, the slower you’ll move. It’s best to have as flat an information-reporting structure as possible.

It’s essential for team members to know ahead of time what their individual duties will be during the crisis — especially at its beginning. Naturally, in the real world, a chain of command won’t be strictly adhered to, including who does what; a real-world crisis will never play out according to a predetermined set of tasks. But it’s critical to lay things out ahead of time.

Physical Event

Here’s what a list of initial procedures, especially for a crisis that involves an accident or physical event, such as a facility fire, might look like:

  • Employees are instructed that, upon learning of a potential crisis, they are to report the incident to their immediate supervisor.
  • The supervisor is to report the incident to the crisis team leader.
  • The crisis team leader alerts first responders (a contact list of first responders should be part of the crisis plan).
  • The crisis team leader alerts the crisis team (on CrisisResponsePro, for example).
  • The crisis team leader decides at which command-center location the crisis communications team will meet for the duration of the crisis.
  • The crisis communications team interacts with other teams such as the emergency-response or business-continuity team.
  • Team member [NAME] decides what safety precautions need to be taken.
  • Team member [NAME] decides what facilities, if any, need to be secured, including from reporters, and if a pressroom or separate area for press should be set up.
  • Team member [NAME] decides if stress and trauma counselors need to be called in (your crisis communications plan should have a contact list).
  • The team decides what level of response the crisis requires (high, medium, or low).
  • The team consults the crisis plan’s scenarios and evaluates the crisis type and appropriate response.
  • Team member [NAME] begins recording notes of all that is done during the crisis. These notes will be crucial for any post-crisis investigations and the post-crisis evaluation of the response.

Finally, organizations should decide whether they need separate procedure lists for a crisis that breaks during regular business hours and one that breaks outside those hours. Separate procedures may also be developed for crises in which the organization’s electricity or phone service is lost, though this may be dealt with in assigning a command center outside the organization’s buildings.

Image Credit: MicroOne/Shutterstock

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared today on the CrisisResponsePro paid subscription portal. (CrisisResponsePro subscribers can access the full version by clicking here. ID and password are required.) To take advantage of all of the content, data, and collaborative resources CrisisResponsePro has to offer, contact us at