A Lesson From Hurricane Harvey: It doesn’t have to be your fault to become your problem

Crisis Communicator Blog - Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald - New Orleans

A Lesson From Hurricane Harvey:
It doesn’t have to be your fault to become your problem

Every natural disaster teaches or reinforces any number of lessons for businesses and government agencies, not to mention people in the line of fire.  Hurricane Harvey is no exception.
Among the things that Harvey has reminded us of is the fact that it doesn’t have to be your fault to become your problem. In reality, you and your company can be doing everything just right and still suffer the consequences of an accident, incident or disaster you have no control over.
That was the case just this past week when a longtime BMF client found its employees and assets to be victimized and potentially in harm’s way through no fault of their own and without any immediate ability to manage the situation. For nearly a week, great uncertainty dogged the company and its personnel, fostering a feeling of helplessness at being collateral damage when someone else’s problem suddenly became their own.  
One of the topics that probably won’t be found in 99% of all crisis response plans is Anticipating the Unexpected. For the very most part, crisis plans are rooted in preparing for logical, knowable, and sometimes already experienced episodes that can be addressed and managed by the book. So what happens when there is no book, when companies and their crisis managers and communicators are forced to step outside their comfort zones and answer the questions no one has ever asked before:  Outside the worst case modeling, how bad can really it be? What are the unexpected, even unlikely things that could happen that will force us into a response spiral we never really imagined possible?  And how can we possibly be ready for something that’s never happened to us or perhaps anyone else before?
Sadly, while there’s no set answer to these questions and no full proof way to arrive at them, there are however, ways to improve your readiness for the unexpected and to better position your people and assets to weather a storm of someone else’s making.

  1. Think outside your own fence line. Too many crisis plans deal largely, or exclusively with what happens to us in our own work space and don’t effectively consider the many things that can happen starting with someone or something outside our organization. Better communication and coordination with neighboring organizations, facilities and the agencies that regulate them, as well as a better understanding of their processes, products and risks is a great place to start.
  2. Share and share alike. Logically, sharing your hazards, protocols and response plans with those same external makes a world of sense for all parties.  All companies have proprietary information, of course, but it makes sense to share common risks and identify potential responses in a way that protects sensitive information.
  3. Learn from the experiences of others. As incidents and natural disasters unfold in other places, keep an eye out for the challenges others are facing, how those same challenges might arise in your world, and how they are being managed or mitigated.
  4. Be inclusive in your planning.  Include others in your organization who aren’t necessarily part of your incident response or crisis management team to share their thoughts and concerns and to give you an additional set of eyes and ears that might not also see or hear things the way you do.
  5. Consider engaging a communications firm experienced in managing reputational issues and crises. The right one will have relationships of their own that can be of help, can poke holes in any assumptions you are making before an incident strikes, and provide invaluable insights on establishing protocols with media and myriad stakeholder groups.

In short, while there’s no template for expecting the unexpected, with a little forethought, imagination and outside the proverbial box thinking, you can significantly improve your readiness to deal with the never before imagined scenarios that seem to reveal themselves in every manmade or natural disaster.
For information regarding BMF’s crisis response and reputation management services, or to discuss this topic further, please contact Greg Beuerman at gbeuerman@bmfcomms.com.