Crisis preparedness and the need to plan for the unthinkable 

Most would agree that catastrophizing or thinking about the worst-case scenario is not a great way to move through life. However, when it comes to successfully running an organization (of any size and in any sector), it’s prudent to do just that.  

The reality is that no organization is immune from the threat of a crisis that could severely impact their business, and beyond the obvious imperative to get back to operating business as usual, how an organization responds in a crisis can have lasting impacts on their reputation. A good reputation takes a long time to build up and only one moment to fall apart. This is where a crisis communications and response plan come in. A crisis communications plan can be considered a reputation insurance policy.  

The healthcare sector, for example, is one where the importance of crisis preparedness cannot be overstated. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations run on trust and when issues occur that cause reputational harm and damage that trust, it can materially affect how well the community believes it’s performing its job.  

From pandemics to cybersecurity attacks, threats to patient and staff safety, and climate change-related disasters – healthcare organizations need to be prepared for a wide array of potential scenarios before they happen.  

Communicating action is key in crisis response 

There are two equally important aspects to managing a crisis: what you do about it, and what you say about it. Taking the right action in a crisis is critical. Once you take action, you can communicate about it and work to protect your reputation. But if the action side of your crisis response is weak, there are no words that can make-up for that deficit.   

But let’s assume you’re proactively focused on risk mitigation and you’re preparing for issues you may face in the future – that’s where a crisis communications plan is important. A crisis communications plan does much of the heavy lifting of crisis communications ahead of any issue or crisis occurring. By focusing on ensuring your operational crisis plans are paired with an equally strong crisis communications plan, healthcare organizations can be quicker to deal with issues that arise and move to bring crises under control. 

Here are some key things to remember when preparing a crisis plan: 


Why a crisis communications plan is critically important in healthcare 

  • Healthcare organizations, like hospitals, are in the business of caring for people. Having a crisis communications plan in place means that team members feel supported as they navigate an unstable situation and timely information can be provided so that the provision of care can continue.  
  • Healthcare organizations have an engaged stakeholder base – team members, patients, their families, donors, volunteers, community partners, the media, etc. There are high expectations for transparency.  
  • How an organization navigates a crisis can mean the difference between surviving with your brand and reputation intact or suffering a loss in confidence from your most valuable stakeholders. For healthcare organizations who are in the business of caring for people at their most vulnerable – having a good reputation and the confidence of your stakeholders is paramount. 
  • Healthcare organizations are understandably subject to a lot of scrutiny by the media and regulators. It is in an organization’s best interests to be demonstrably ready for whatever might come their way, and situations that aren’t managed and communicated well are more likely to make the news.   
  • It builds resilience in your organization – giving the opportunity to evaluate your response to a crisis and capitalizing on those lessons learned. 
  • It helps manage the threat of the spread of misinformation in a situation where getting the right information to the right people at the right time is so important.   

What to think about when creating your plan – getting the details right 

  • What probable scenarios are likely to affect your operations that you can anticipate and plan against? 
  • What communications channels do you have at your disposal and who is responsible for them? 
  • Have your spokespeople been media trained recently enough that they’re briefed on potential scenarios and how to deal with them publicly? 
  • Do you have an up-to-date local media list? 
  • How well does your crisis communications plan integrate with your broader crisis operational response plan? 

For any organization, success doesn’t end with writing a crisis communications plan – it’s about making sure that people know how to execute it. Ask yourself: 

  • Who needs to be around the table to operationalize your plan if and when the times comes?  
  • Have you stress-tested your scenarios with those who will be involved? 
  • Have you baked training on the plan into onboarding for new team members who may need to be involved in operationalizing it? 

Organizational resilience starts with planning for the events that put the organization’s regular operations at risk. Being able to communicate effectively at those moments is critical. Do the work early to make sure you’ve got the tools in place to enable that to happen.  

Want to read more?