How to deal with a crisis – the first 48 hours

  • Getting the first hour right is critical to a successful crisis response
  • Implement your business continuity plan and get your communication sorted within 24hrs
  • Then move on to longer-term requirements and a critical appraisal of your response

The unexpected is, by its very nature, hard to anticipate. But the last thing anyone wants when the worst happens is additional surprises.

Pro-active risk and crisis management are essential defences for charities, both to protect staff and shield their brand from the critical media coverage that can cause serious reputational damage.

Zurich’s experience of a huge range of incidents affecting voluntary organisations and charities, has demonstrated time and time again that the key to getting it right is thinking ahead. Planning, control and clear communications are all essential components of successful crisis management, business continuity and recovery.

Preparing your response is complex, but insurers can provide clear guidance on effective risk management, preparedness and crisis leadership.

Zurich advises that when the worst happens the senior team need to be there immediately, to provide leadership across all areas of a charity’s operations, and staff need to have a stress-tested plan that’s ready to go.

Providing a manual is not enough. Employees and volunteers need to know exactly what to do in the event of specific crisis, when they need to do it – and have practiced their response.

Failing to establish clear lines of responsibility, well in advance of an incident occurring, can lead to a dangerously sluggish response, confusion and even delays in resolution. All too often when it comes to debriefing after the event, key people complain of not knowing how to get hold of information or who to talk to. This can be especially true where you have large, volunteer or remote workforces.

Emergency response phases

It’s also vital that staff understand how their emergency response will change and progress through three distinct phases.

The first hour after an incident – the so-called ‘Golden Hour’ – is critical for establishing control and shifting the charity from normal to emergency conditions.

This is when damage is assessed, immediate health and safety concerns addressed, needs prioritised and the emergency services contacted. You also need to be talking to your partners and stakeholders now. In the digital age you need to move fast and start talking to the media and public straightaway – no charity can afford reputational damage from bad publicity.

Phase two rolls out through the following 24-hours, when the focus shifts away from incident response and towards communication and business continuity, as you work on getting back to normal.

Key members of staff need to be in place and following through on well-drilled responses, while the response team is getting your message through to staff, partners, stakeholders and the media, using all available channels.

You also need to be talking to your insurer now and providing all the information you can concerning not only your losses, but also any third party damage or wider environmental liabilities.

The third phase is characterised by recovery and a return to normality. Continue to manage communications positively, build up a complete picture of your claim and marshal all the evidence you might need to support it. Start to think about your long-term requirements and how your strategy might need to adapt based on what’s occurred.

It’s also important to review your response while events are still fresh. What can you learn? Make sure your decisions during the incident have been documented.

Inevitably it will have been a difficult time. But, if you have taken the right advice, have the right partners and planned thoroughly, then clarity in your operations should have ensured you have done everything possible to minimise the harm.