Crisis preparedness is more than a written plan

posted by Patrick Dix on Friday, June 21, 2019 in SHAZAM Blog

Fires in California. Flooding in Iowa. Tornadoes in Alabama. The list is never-ending as weather gets more extreme. Crisis can hit home and seriously impact your operations.

In each situation, the financial institution likely had a solid plan for keeping the doors open for their accountholders or how they’d continue to operate until things were back to normal. But a crisis is a time when customers may take the opportunity, usually through no fault of yours, to choose another financial institution. Communicating immediately after a crisis can make all the difference in keeping accountholders. So, what does a solid crisis communications plan look like?

Anticipate the worst

It’s often hard to come up with realistic scenarios that prepare staff for a crisis. Like a fire drill in elementary school, everyone knows it’s coming, yet it doesn’t replicate the emotion and stress of an actual crisis. When training exercises are conducted make sure there’s significant time spent on the “what if.” Begin with a realistic scenario, then throw a curveball in the middle of the exercise — a power outage in addition to a medical incident. It may open up discussion and reveal weaknesses or fears that your staff have but aren’t willing to discuss.

Scout your facility

In a crisis, the financial institution may become a 24-hour operation. Do you have the facilities for this type of situation? Is there a room that can be commandeered as a headquarters where senior management or the board can meet? Where will you put the media if they show up? Plan ahead; don’t leave the decision for later. Designate an area for media to park, set up cameras and shoot video. The location should be far enough away from the entrance to allow employees to come and go without being harassed, while still giving a clear view of the facility. Finally, look for an alternate location near your institution to hold news conferences or meet with community leaders. Confirm your plan ahead of time with those organizations and have agreements in place that allow use of the locations if your facility is not available.

Include social media in your plan

Social media can be a critical tool in getting information out quickly to your customers and your community. Many leaders may think social media is a hassle. They believe there’s too much risk in an active social media program. I would ask, what’s the risk in NOT communicating with your community through social media? In a crisis, rumor and innuendo can quickly fill a communications void. If you’re not there to monitor what’s being said about the incident, you miss an opportunity to address these issues on your own social media and other communication channels. When the space is filled with factual information, you have an opportunity to control the narrative.

Communicate with local law enforcement and emergency management

All the planning in the world won’t help if law enforcement has a different vision. Share response plans with law enforcement, emergency managers and firefighters. They do this work on a daily basis — ask their opinion. When the day comes and your emergency plan is put into action, you’ll be better prepared if you’re working in concert with emergency professionals.

Ask for help

Any crisis communications plan should anticipate, and address, long work hours and frayed nerves. If staff operate under these conditions for too long, mistakes will be made. Part of your crisis communications planning should address staff’s ability to relieve each other so team members can go home, get a little rest and return ready to contribute.

The reputation of your financial institution has taken years, even decades, to build. Don’t damage that reputation with a poor crisis communications plan.


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  2. preparedness
  3. social media

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