Say, What’s In That Plan Anyways

Okay, I’ll admit it, I rubberneck. You know what that is, right? Can’t
take your eyes off an accident? The term comes from people who crane
their necks around while driving their car to see an accident pulled
off to the side of the road. Invariably, they drive slower and cause
much of the traffic backup associated with minor accidents.

Now, you admit it, too. You’re a rubbernecker. Maybe you don’t gawk at
crash scenes or flashing lights, but who among you said,
“Representative Weiner is a jerk and a liar, and his lack of a guiding
crisis voice makes this something that doesn’t really affect me?” And
then stopped watching? Almost none of you, right? I watched, and I
knew almost right away that it was such a poor effort on his part that
it wouldn’t even make good blog fodder.

So, why bring it up, you ask. Because the reason that situation would
make for a poor blog post is because it mirrors seemingly every other
PR crisis out there. No plan, no forethought, no common sense, and a
complete lack of understanding about how crisis communications works
today. Think back at all of the big public immolations this year and,
at their root, weren’t those the reasons why the situation invariably
went from bad to worse?

We online “cluckers” (we cluck at others’ misfortune and shake our
heads solemnly at the afflicted’s bad fortune and foresight) do our
thing and move on when the train wreck is out of the news. “Shoulda
known better.” And then back to our day-to-day.

Wouldn’t it be more productive to instead take the opportunity to
insulate yourself, your agency and your clients against such a thing
happening to you? In fact, I’d bet that Rep. Weiner’s communications
director probably did the same thing we did after TEPCO or Deepwater.
He or she clucked and shook her head and did nothing to make sure that
didn’t happen to them. Why? Because they had a plan. Just like you and
I have a plan. And it’s good. You know because you wrote it yourself
back in ‘97. Just like Representative Weiner’s office did, and TEPCO
did, and everyone else who’s been the subject of our rubbernecking.

With that in mind, I’d like to point out this great
post

on Bill Salvin’s blog, View From the
Bridge
. In it, he implores you to
review your crisis communications plan—now. He purports to have seen
plans that list executives’ pager numbers, and fax numbers as
dissemination modalities. Does this sort of thing sound like your
plan? Do you think it sounds like Rep. Weiner’s kind of plan?

Bill gives us three great things to help start the process:

  • Check your notification procedures: Is there anyone on the list that no longer works there? Be sure to test some of the phone numbers.

  • Check scenario assumptions: Let your imagination run wild and test the plan’s assumptions against the most horrific scenario you can imagine.

  • Confirm integration with external agencies: Are the right external agencies included in your plan? Have they seen your plan? Have you seen their plan?

The most important thing is to take the plan off the shelf (dust it
off) and read it. Then do it again in six months or a year. I like to
tie reviews to specific calendars, so it’s easier to remember, rather
than the crazy vague “annually.” Its almost the end of the government
fiscal year. If you live by that schedule, now is a great time to get
ready for the next year. Or do it by the calendar year (that week in
between Christmas and New Year’s is always so quiet anyways). Or even
your birthday!

Just do it now, and get on a real schedule of keeping it updated. Help
keep us rubberneckers from gawking.

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2 thoughts on “Say, What’s In That Plan Anyways

  1. Another great post! In a real world even during my time at FEMA a notification to the alerting operation at Mt. Weather by the NRC that a plant had announced a General Alert (the highest alerting status and one in which I argued for 20 years should trigger the FRERP (the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan for which responsibilty was assigned in Executive Order12221) should be immediately activated (this never happened and even now no one in the federal government, the STATES and their local governments, knows when the FRERP or the equivalent (NRF?) will be activated and thus this long and convulted sentence. Anyhow Mt. Weather had notification notebooks. It called all in FEMA to be notified of the GENERAL ALERT notification from the NRC EOC. Not one person of almost 50 notified knew what that notification required them to do. None had procedures. This was a case study by FEMA/OIG and GAO that confirmed what I just stated. Fortunately, the event was brought under control on-site by NRC. FEMA never fixed the system to my knowledge. FUKISHIMA lessons learned?

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