Keeping pace with a crisis

By Ron Murray

Bad news.  It’s a fact of life.  Organisations active in the community or business invariably face risks. Interacting with their key stakeholders, trading, running their operations – things can go wrong, and do.

Small problems can arise – issues – from time to time, and very occasionally they might balloon into something that poses a more serious threat to the organisation – a crisis.  Fortunately, an astute organisation aware of the risks it may face takes steps to try to avoid issues and prevent crises, and manage them if they do occur.

That preparation generally follows a conventional set of guidelines around identifying the risks and formulating actions to address them, assigning key people in the organisation roles to do the work and creating the necessary documentation, tools, contact lists and other measures to cope with the bad news when it arises. A Crisis Management Plan. The organisation may even have had a dummy run of a crisis response. I say, may have; it’s not as common and part of the preparation as it should be.

When a crisis or a serious issue breaks out, following the guidelines and implementing the Plan can be affected by the pure complexity of the situation - the different parties with an interest in what’s happened, personnel available, locations involved, how up-to-date the paperwork is, and so on.

But the Plan’s in place; what’s the problem?

Time.  Issues and crises don’t operate to a planned timeframe; they don’t always behave the way the trial run suggested.  They can literally be like the bush-fires our Australian cousins have been experiencing.  Ignited unexpectedly and fanned into a confronting blaze by other forces – in this case, media interest, social media sharing and community action.

Responding quickly can be compromised for a number of reasons: key people are on leave, dispersed, out of the office and getting them together to address the crisis is difficult, as is getting documentation to them.

And our experience showed that delays in responding to crises or issues do have a bearing on the outcome.  When a crisis is unfolding, even a relatively short delay in responding can mean the difference between managing events with minimal reputational damage and operational disruption – and a poor outcome in both respects.  Both mainstream and social media commentators can fan the flames incredibly quickly in the digital era; bad news travels at light speed.

With that challenge in mind, it was a logical development for our company to seek a more responsive platform for helping organisations manage issues or crises.  The answer we found was a smartphone-based app out of the US – called In Case of Crisis.

Essentially, it takes what is conventionally loaded into a series of ring-binders - plans, checklists, actions, links, templates, resources, contacts – and puts them on your iPhone or Android. The conventional crisis response kit can be quite cumbersome: it’s not easy to cart around, update or expand. On your smartphone it’s portable, expandable and updateable.

With all the guidelines, resources and connections on your phone, the response time in a crisis is dramatically reduced.  The crisis meeting can take place – via a shared call - within minutes of the problem appearing, and the tools to respond are also at your fingertips.

When a crisis goes down at an unexpected time, it’s easy for things to careen out of control fast.  It’s important that all involved know what they’re meant to do – and the smartphone option makes that vital early comms much easier to execute, even if part of the crisis is a loss of power. The smartphone brings the added bonus of enabling you to locate and track where key people are, which is a big health and safety advantage.

Smartphones have enabled a revolution in many aspects of life, from entertainment to security improvements. Their undeniable power to enable a much better response to a crisis, or more deft and timely handling of an issue, is a welcome benefit of the digital revolution for organisations wishing to manage risk - and companies like ours which support them.

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