I remember the days when we used to teach people how to communicate during crisis or stressful situations and provide lists of what to do and what not to do in front of the media. There was media training provided and organizations had media spokespeople. The advent and expansion of social media means that this seems to have fallen by the wayside…or at least that’s the perception created by some individuals that obviously never received any kind of crisis training – communications and then some. Continue reading
For the August 2, 2018 show we’ll talk with research scientist Connie White, PhD on how Social Media and Drones can help Emergency Managers with decision support and how these can benefit those impacted by disasters.
The StoneRoad Team
On our 2018-03-08 show, we’ll talk to Dr. Rickey Miller, a Clinical Psychologist who will talk to us about helping those who have experienced traumatic events and how these events affect their behaviour. We’ll touch on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other aspects related to people’s responses to disasters.
The StoneRoad Team
All BCM program components must be validated prior to any disaster ever occurring; the more validation performed, meaning the more tests with varying situations and scenarios are performed, the better the overall Crisis Management plan and strategy will achieve. The problem is that all too often an organization will draft a crisis management strategy (contained within the crisis management plan) and believe that it will work as documented. This isn’t always the case and in too many instances, it can prove to be detrimental to an organization when it’s experiencing a major business interruption – regardless of the trigger.
There are many indicators to show an organization that what it’s doing isn’t working and that the strategy they are currently working with needs an immediate change.
Disasters and crises can present many challenges for organization and an organization should no compound their own problems by not being alert to early signals that they might be heading down the wrong road.
Below are just a few of those early warning signs that can help an organization amend its crisis communication strategy (the plan) to ensure it doesn’t end up losing control of the overall situation.
1. Negative Social Media Traffic: You’re communicating all sorts of information but no matter what you do messages being posted on the various social media sites are negative towards you and your efforts. The cause could be that the messages you’re sending out aren’t addressing the concerns of those impacted or those that require information. Instead the messages are ‘self-serving’ and thus causing friction with the public, which results in negative comments being posted. Negative traffic can also be caused by the organization itself; it’s not all external. If an organization has schedule postings or updates about the latest product or service, it doesn’t hold well when these keep coming out during a disaster.
2. The Speaker is confused: Nothing is worse than having the ‘face’ face of the organization (that is experiencing the disaster) seem confused and not knowledgeable of what is going on; what the overall disaster situation is or what the organizations plans are in responding to the disaster. Any speaker should know what is occurring and be able to speak to the situation at hand and what the organization is doing; if they can’t, they will make the organization seem unprepared to respond and being in total confusion.
3. Rumours Abound: If you are addressing the situation and providing accurate information but rumours are still being spread, then the organization isn’t addressing the concerns of those needing information. Like #1, people will begin to determine their own conclusions based on little bits of information they come across and then post those conclusions to social media sites or through emails to others. When this occurs, ensure you address the rumours so that they can be dispelled immediately; not addressing rumours will mean they continue, which will harm your crisis management efforts even if you are doing the best you can.
4. Staff Rebellion: When staff begins to moan and groan, it probably means they’re not receiving information they require. Often, organizations focus so much on ensuring that others receiving information and they assume that employees know what they need to do or know where they need to go to get it; this isn’t always the case. You must include employee communications – and continued updates – in your crisis management strategy.
5. Media Questions & Responses: If the media are asking the same question over and over, or leading you back to the same question it means that a key point hasn’t been addressed. It may be something you don’t want to address or don’t know completely, and if so, you better be aware that the media won’t let go of the topic until they feel that it’s been addressed. If you don’t know, then state you don’t know and will update them when it’s possible to do so but ignoring it or simply ‘skirting’ around the topic will only cause them to continue to press for information, which in the end will look like you’re hiding something. And when that occurs, some organizations become antagonistic and begin to debate – to put it politely – with social media posters and traditional media representatives. Don’t get into a debate with them about what has or hasn’t occurred; you’re just being sidetracked by fictitious situations and scenarios being presented by people who have not received the basic information the organization needs to communicate.
6. Clear Lack of Awareness & Training: Nothing says a person don’t know what they’re talking about when they are full of “um’s” and “uh’s”. It shows that there is clearly no proper training in speaking in front of people or that a basic understanding of what the organization will do is severely lacking. It’s as though the person standing in front of the camera’s making it up as they are going or that their responses on social media sites are just basic run-of-the-mill responses; the kind you can relate to sports figures that rattle off basic one-liners after a game (i.e. it was a tough game, I thought the team did well, we played hard…etc). If anyone sounds like that, they know there is no real awareness or training on what needs to be done because during a disaster people are looking for specifics, not boiler plate responses. When there is a lack of training and overall response awareness by company spokespeople, messages can be contradictory because they are speaking ‘off the cuff’ or making it up based on what they ‘think’ is occurring behind the scenes rather than what is occurring. This is why training and awareness must be tailored for all areas of an organization; from the most senior position to the newest employee. Each must have a reasonable understanding of expectations and what role – if any – they will plan. Awareness isn’t just about the response activities but also awareness of what actually happened. People will send messages on social media based on what they know and if you’re organization isn’t aware of what happened, you won’t be perceived as really understanding the situation.
7. Lawyer Speak: There is a time and place for lawyers and lawyer speak but it’s not at the outset of a disaster when people need to know what has happened, what they need to do and if they are going to be impacted by the situation (if they haven’t been already). Lawyers don’t want leaders of organizations to take responsibility for the disaster but they have to take responsibility because they need to respond to it. Taking responsibility does NOT equate to accepting blame, which is what many legal representatives tell leaders. The time for legal speak comes when the dust has begun to settle and a clearer view of the situation comes to light; not at the outset when the main concern is people safety and getting operations back to an operating level. When legal representatives do all the talking for an organization, it sends the wrong message to the public, which are expecting the leader(s) of the organization to do all the talking and direction; to be the human face of the organization. Leaders are leaders during good times and must also be leaders during bad times, or else it shows that the organization has no plan in place and lacks clear leadership, which may not be the case…but will be the perception. It’s commonly joked by many individuals – the public in general – that lawyers and politicians can speak for ages but never say anything, so don’t let lawyers do the talking for you, even though they will play a key role in the crisis at later stages.
8. Communication & Decision Delays: If the chain of command is too long and the delay in obtaining decisions takes allot of time; then you can imagine the silence that would be coming from the organization when the demand for information by the media and public is increasing. If the decision process is taking too long then there is too much discussion occurring in the “Crisis Management” team and not enough action. This could be that the restoration/recovery/resumption/continuity plans are not sufficient enough to deal with the situation or possibly that required plans don’t exist. If they don’t, then that would cause the delay for decisions and in communications. Too much time at the boardroom table trying to figure out an action plan means no one is communicating outward to those needing information and that absence shows the media (and public) that there is no action plan in place. This is what causes rumour and conjecture to take hold and then cause a PR disaster for the organization. Not only are you fighting the disaster itself, you’re fighting public perception.
9. Leadership Visibility: During the Lac Megantic rail disaster in Quebec, Canada (July 6, 2013), the President of the rail line (Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway) waited days before appearing in the devastated town, believing that his presence was best spent at his corporate headquarters coordinating efforts. He wasn’t visible to those impacted or anyone else requiring information; the railway was ‘faceless’ and only press releases and comments released through the media were seen by people, which gave the message that the railway was hiding and wasn’t addressing the situation at hand; a situation that literally levelled the centre of the small town. This was not seen as acceptable especially when there are examples of leaders being on scene and taking control of bad situations such as the then New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who was coordinating efforts almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
10. Focusing on Blame: Continuing from #7, everyone will want to know the cause of the disaster and who’s at fault…but not immediately. Despite perceptions, an organizations first priority to ensure people safety; finding the blame can come later once the first priority has been taken care of. Unfortunately, some organizations would rather try to deflect criticism first and find the blame rather than addressing the key point of life safety. Even if 1st responders are available and internally employees were there to help any injured parties, if the communication coming out of the organization is about blame then the fact that the organization did help those impacted first, will get lost. There is a time for blame – and that’s when the time for investigating the cause has begun, not when the disaster first begins. Organizational resources will be focuses on people and then obtaining some level of operational capability and when that occurs, and then the cause can be looked at. Of course, if a major hurricane occurs then the cause of the disaster should be obvious but then the questions about why you weren’t prepared will surface.
11. Appear to be Uncaring: You can communicate all you wish and if you’re perceived to be uncaring then no amount of communications is going to change that. In a majority of situations, an organization tries to make itself the victim but in all cases, it’s the people impacted (or hurt) by the disaster that is the victim – not the organization. An organization is rarely seen as the victim, though the people within it can be perceived as victims. A crisis management plan addresses the situation at hand but must also address and focus on the impact the disaster on people; the real victims of the situation. If an organization doesn’t seem to come across as caring in its communications then it can be seen as a pariah within the community, rather than a member of the community and no amount of back-tracking is going to change that perception any time soon. Your crisis management plan – regardless of how extensive and comprehensive it is – won’t ever be perceived as successful because the external view of the organization is negative.
If any of the above noted aspects occur, you’re on your way to more problems as each item is an indication that your current crisis management strategy isn’t working and you need to ‘change gears’ quickly to get things back on track. Remember, this isn’t the restoration, recovery or resumption activities, this is how the organization manages the crisis (disaster) and if that isn’t working well, it makes no difference how successful your restoration and recovery activities are, people will still see your organization in a negative light.
© StoneRoad 2014
A.Alex Fullick has over 17 years experience working in Business Continuity and is the author of numerous books, including “Heads in the Sand” and “BIA: Building the Foundation for a Strong Business Continuity Program.”
Most organizations don’t want to imagine what would happen if a disaster struck their operation, but what if a disaster did strike. How would your organization respond? The best way to know how to respond is to develop, implement and maintain a Business Continuity Management (BCM) program. A BCM program provides a framework for building organizational resiliency with effective responses and safeguards that protect its reputation, stakeholders, employees, and facilities.
BCM is not just about remedying technology shortfalls, as many organizations believe. It’s also about securing, protecting, communicating and preparing corporations from disastrous impacts upon its workforce, facilities and its technologies – To minimize the impact on operations. BCM touches every aspect of an organization from the mailroom, the field and the call centre to the manufacturing floor and right up to the boardroom.
To make your program effective, consider some of the following suggestions when planning:
1. Start With the Worst – Begin the planning with the worst-case situation your organization can imagine. For many, this example is the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Work backwards from there and you’ll start to fill in many of the dangers that can harm your corporation. You’ll also be able to start challenging the worst case situation and begin to get more inventive with potential impacts – and develop the plan accordingly.
2. 3 Pillars of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) – Every BCP plan must address three things; Workforce Availability, Facility Availability and Technology Availability. If each plan has these three core components, an organization can respond to any disaster situation and expand their capabilities by adding varying situations and scenarios through validation exercises.
3. Dedicated Resource – Assign a person with the appropriate training and authority to get things done, if not, the program will quickly fall to the wayside in favour of other initiatives. This may include getting outside help to get the process kick-started (i.e. consultants, contactors etc).
4. BCM Program vs. BCM Project – The BCM program must live on and continually meet the needs of an organization, as it grows and changes; so to must the BCM program. A project has an end date but a program must live and breathe and contain more than just a single aspect of BCM. Therefore, when the Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is completed, that’s just one ‘project’ of the overall BCM program; you’ve got lots more to get through and develop.
5. Exercising/Testing – Plans mean nothing if they haven’t been validated. Every organization must exercise its plans to make sure they’ll work during a disaster. It’s better to find gaps in your plans through exercising and under controlled circumstances rather than when the real thing happens.
6. Executive Support – If no one is there to champion the BCM program, it won’t last too long. In fact, there’s a good chance it will run out of steam and end up on the backburner of boardroom discussions. Having executive support shows the rest of the organization that BCM is taken seriously.
7. Awareness & Training – It can take a long time to develop continuity plans and create processes and procedures but if no one knows how to use them, where they’re kept or under what circumstances they’re required, they won’t be of any value or use. Remember, awareness and training are not the same things and every level of the organization must received its fair share of both if the program (and all the developed plans and processes) are to be useful and successful.
8. Focus on People – This should be a no brainer; BCM is about people. It’s people that build the plans, use the plans, review and exercise the plans. It’s people that will be impacted by not having plans in place; clients, vendors, employees and communities. If you state that technology availability is the most important part, you’ve basically told those individuals – who you need to help build plans – that they aren’t important. Keep in mind; people first.
9. Business Impact Analysis (BIA) – Every company must understand what it does and how it does it. A BIA is the process of analysing business functions and the effect that a disruption might have upon them. Knowing this will help corporations develop appropriate Business Continuity Plans (BCP) and other contingency strategies. Ensure you get agreement on the findings, don’t just state what they are and move forward. The findings from a BIA are what the attendees believe is important and it could turn out that what they feel is important to the company is not what executives believe is important. Make sure executives are in agreement with the findings before you start developing restoration and recovery plans – you could be way off the mark.
10. Program Maintenance and Monitoring – If program components aren’t maintained and updated the Business Continuity strategies developed – and the related documentation – will reflect the corporation as it once was, not as it current is.
11. Bonus: Using Software Only – Software can be very beneficial for maintaining and gathering information but beware, it doesn’t take into account the nuances of people or scenarios specifics. It may tell you that you need 10 desktops in 24 hours but the situation itself may call for something completely different based on what has occurred. Don’t fall into the trap that DR/BC software will answer all your questions and save you; it’s a tool to help you.
Having a BCM program in place is a part of an organizations Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but there are other benefits to implementing a program. First, your organization will have the security in knowing a robust plan is in place to deal with disasters, providing safety and security for all employees. Second, a proper BCM program will provide a competitive advantage. Those organizations will strong programs win out over organizations that don’t have BCM plans in place because there is knowledge that your organization will have developed a way to provide a product or service even during a disaster.
It’s not easy building a BCM program; it can be tough to develop, implement and maintain but it will only take a single crisis or disaster to prove its worth. A single crisis or disaster can be one too many. Are you prepared?
© StoneRoad (2013)
BCM document templates available in the ‘shop’ section at http://www.stone-road.com.
When disaster – or a crises – strikes, organizations must be able to refer to a plan to help guide them through the tasks they need to consider executing to respond, restore and recover, systems and operations. All to often when a BCM / DR plan is pulled off the shelf or printed from a file, one ends up with a document that is huge in nature and breadth though rather slim and small in usable content.
This is because many organization put everything they can think of into their BCM/DR plans, which more times that naught, overshadows the actual content needed to be followed; the stuff that provides the detail on what to do. A BCM / DR plan should be action oriented not full of irrelevant information; irrelevant at the time of disaster, not irrelevant to the overall program.
I tend to follow a specific rule of thumb that says if there aren’t action items listed by Page 5, then it’s not an action oriented plan. It might address audit concerns, legal arguments and executive expectations but for the user – the one executing activities – it doesn’t address what they need and doesn’t provide it in a clear and concise manner.
So, noted below are a dozen things that shouldn’t be in your BCM / DR plan; the plan needed by users. It doesn’t mean that some of these things aren’t available in another document; an over-arching BCM program document.
1. Distribution Lists (Program Level): You can keep these separate, as names and positions will change constantly. It’s better to keep this separate, as it offers no value to the action plan.
2. Methodology Utilized: Sure you have a documented strategy for how you’re going to develop the program – and plans – but again, there’s no reason to have this in the plans themselves. It just adds more useless information to the plan and isn’t relevant when activities need to be executed.
3. Program Assumptions: You may have some assumptions related to the plan and they should only be those attributed to the plan. Program level assumptions should be kept separate and in a program document – not a plan.
4. Meetings / Schedules / Attendees: Who really needs to know who attended a meeting(s) in the past? No one that’s executing activities needs to know this. You may need to keep track of meeting attendees during the disasters, but not those planning meetings. They can be kept separately.
5. Maintenance Schedule (Program Level): How you monitor and maintain the various plans should be kept in a central location and kept at the program level. Can you imagine the confusion you’d have if you kept this type on information in every single plan? Repetition all over the place and most of it out of sync.
6. Names: The names of individuals change constantly due to new hires, those that leave their position and those that are promoted. Try to use position titles whenever possible – it’ll make it easier.
7. Document Audience: This is like the distribution lists and should be kept separate – if it’s even needed. The audience for an action-oriented plan should be anyone in the organization because you never know who has to pick it up and use it. Keep in mind, the audience isn’t always the same group that has a copy of the plan.
8. BCM / DR Program Descriptors: You can define the program in a program document but don’t redefine it for a plan.
9. Document Approvals / Signoffs: For audit purposes, it’s always a good idea to keep track of signoffs in a separate document.
10. Project Management / Definition: Just like ‘Methodology’ you don’t need to define how you created the plan. That information can be kept separately in a program document or a document that outlines how plans were to be developed. Incorporating it into the plan itself is unnecessary fluff used only to increase the page count.
11. Reporting Mechanisms: Only those reporting mechanisms that are needed to execute the plan should be in the document. There shouldn’t be the overall reporting strategy in a document that details how to rebuild the mainframe.
12. Program Overview: If you have a plan that details how to vacate the facility due to a fire, do you really need pages and pages that describe how the rest of the program operates and what other functions are part of the program? No. What you do need though is to ensure that there is a link to the next stage of the program – the next plan – that needs to be activated/executed because of the disaster.
13. (BONUS) Test and exercise results and documentation. This information is still good to have but it’s not relevant when a plan needs to be activated and followed. it’s just extra fluff that hides the information users really need in their documents. Keep your test and exercise results in documents related to tests. Test information isn’t action-oriented and won’t help anyone in a disaster.
The larger the plan (document) the harder it is to follow and the longer it’ll take people to find what steps they need to execute / implement. If the document is kept action-oriented, then the fluff materials aren’t needed. All the fluff can be kept in a separate document at the program level so that its kept for audit and regulatory purposes – where applicable – and the plan can be better followed and utilized during a real disaster. Just remember, the KISS principle (and I don’t mean Gene Simmons here): Keep It Simple Stupid!
© StoneRoad (Stone Road Inc) 2013
“Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility” and “Made Again Volume 1 – Practical Advice for Business Continuity Programs”
by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3
Available at http://www.stone-road.com, http://www.amazon.com & http://www.volumesdirect.com