Category: Emergency Response

Hospitals should Learn from the Mandela Media Circus and Update their Crisis Plans

Here’s a question for you – When last have you conducted a dry -run or have had an independent audit of your hospital group’s crisis plan – its communication management and emergency action plans? Especially with the media furore and presence at Nelson Mandela’s hospitalisation and with the proliferation of social media tools and mobile phone technologies.

The Star newspaper reported that “jumpy journalists thronged outside the Pretoria Hospital where the icon is being treated…they also reported that Security had to be beefed up” Other Hospitals can learn from this. With more and more politicians and celebrities visiting South Africa, this is likely to happen more often.

Crises can result in unplanned visibility that can affect the standing of a Company in the eyes of its stakeholders. That’s why an audit of a Company’s crisis plan is as vital as regular financial audits.

A crisis can strike a Business at any time; and during this crisis a Company’s image and reputation can be damaged significantly. Often, this can be a result of not responding adequately to media and other stakeholder enquiries. Understanding what Communication challenges may arise during a crisis or before one occurs is therefore critical.

No Company, organisation or individual whose livelihood depends on public support can therefore afford to function without a crisis communication plan. Yet, many organisations still have no such plans. Many companies say they need it but think that with positive thinking and hope the inevitable will never occur. The reality is that Crises are often unavoidable. What is avoidable is being ill prepared. After all, Noah built the Ark before it rained. And, how is it possible that some companies find opportunities in the time of crises, while others succumb to the danger.

The secret is that they have a well-prepared and tested Crisis Communication and Management Plan and that all the staff, including those who will deal with the media are well trained, ready to face the crises.

Who in your organisation has had the responsibility and decision making authority to create and implement an effective crises communication plan, decide when and how to initiate media coverage – and when not to-, what to do once a crises does occur and how to ensure that the media tells your side of the story?

Does your plan cover the:

  • Definition of a Crisis?
  • Anticipating of Crises?
  • Tips on creating a how-to-manual on developing and implementing a crisis communication plan?
  • Creation of Contact lists?(And upkeep)
  • The link between Emergency planning and The Crises Communication plan?
  • Designating of Spokespersons?
  • Determining the most effective message to communicate to the media and stakeholders?
  • Maintaining Control?
  • Re-establishing lost goodwill?
  • Tips on how to prepare for a Crisis or a media press conference?
  • Tips and guidelines on how to deal with Social Media? (Twitter, Facebook, Blog Wars, etc.)

Organisations such as Hospitals should begin their crisis plan with a vulnerability assessment in which the crisis communication team looks at the likelihood of certain kinds of crises and assesses the organizations ability to respond. Below are listed some common crises with categorisation.

Most hospitals may be best prepared to accommodate Class A and B crisis, spurred by legal requirements. However, many may be less able to manage class C, although preparation for Class A and B may ready the institution to manage its own “disaster.” However, few hospitals may be properly prepared for Class D.

The value in grouping crises is in providing a potential list of scenarios for which the hospital may prepare and document their crisis contingency plan.


  • External Natural Disasters
  • Potential Medical Challenges
  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Severe thunderstorms
  • Tornadoes


  • External Disasters
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Building fires
  • Explosions
  • Structural collapse
  • Chemical or radiation exposure
  • Multiple victim accidents (Le., car, bus, train, plane)
  • Disease epidemic ~ scale poisoning
  • Riots
  • Paramilitary conflicts
  • Nuclear fallout


  • Internal crises / Medical Emergencies
  • Fire
  • Explosion
  • Disease epidemics
  • Serial killer or rapists
  • Staff-patient criminal actions (i.e., poisoning, suffocation)
  • Multi-victim food poisoning
  • Large-scale infections
  • Structural collapse
  • Air pollution
  • Terrorist attack


  • Internal Crises / Non-Medical Emergencies such as Severe disruptive union activities (i.e., slow-down, walk-out, strikes)
  • Unexpected executive death
  • Bomb threats
  • Class action lawsuits
  • Consumer demonstrations
  • Malpractice and/or negligence lawsuit
  • Citations by local/state/regulatory agencies
  • Indictments by judicial agencies of hospital or medical staff
  • Fraud or Embezzlement
  • Large-scale theft
  • Staff-patient abuse
  • Supplier disruption (i.e., blood, food, drugs and other medicines, construction, power failure)
  • Celebrity patients like Mr Mandela
  • Unusual medical treatment
  • Major changes in enabling or funding legislation (i.e., changes in charter conditions, cuts/ balloons in Medical aid allocations, tax exempt status, Medical aid fraud or abuse investigation).

Every hospital in a group should be prepared to deal with emergencies (other than that by the Casualty department). It is well known that the best way to prevent the spread of remorse and misinformation is by issuing factual information as soon as possible. At the same time, a hospital must protect its own interests and the patient’s right to privacy then relay factual information in an orderly, controlled manner.

That is why the hospital’s crisis communication plan should outline a procedure for communication with the media and other stakeholders. That is why your hospital’s emergency plan and crisis communication plan should be combined and tested.

An audit and benchmarking exercise could reveal opportunities for improvement and/or provide the assurance that everything is in order.


There are few kinds of organizations for which PR is more important than hospitals.

Hospitals must constantly strive to earn and keep a good reputation among doctors, patients, donors (if charitable), other funding sources and broad community leadership. If a hospital is not perceived by all stakeholders as providing quality care in a responsible manner it will fail. Because of the diversity of audiences, hospital PR must address a wide range of concerns and convey information at many levels of detail. Hospital PR also has a role in supporting the satisfaction and effectiveness of employees who perform critical tasks under difficult conditions.

Hospitals are typically among the larger institutions in their communities. Therefore, almost everything they do or say is potentially important and/or controversial. Public relations should be involved at the highest strategic levels of hospital management to help guide decision-making in ways that will help accomplish long-term goals.

My one blog article – may also spark more debate about this.

You might also be interested in this information from my blog – I have my own product which is really a primer for starting the process of developing a crisis plan in a company – see and my blog post that could stimulate thoughts in this regard.

Anyway, I just thought that you might find my post and questions – thought provoking. Please access my blog for more information.

Knowledge is the Antidote of Fear

528128_10151085012794391_598681734_n(This comes from a South African male – working with multiple audiences including women across many industries for 17 years (Who many years ago trained SA Armed Forces in Buddy Aid – how to use everyday materials to render first aid when you do not have specialised equipment MacGyver style, who has facilitated hundreds of Health & Safety & Crisis Management workshops)

People often feel helpless and fearful in some difficult situations. The reason – Lack of Knowledge. Some become arrogant in order to hide their lack of knowledge.

The antidote to fear is knowledge. Knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses and ignorance. Knowledge of what to do in difficult situations.

Example – Scared of being hijacked by kidnappers. Attend courses facilitated by your local Police or Defence Agency. They often do this as Community Outreaches – for free.

Example – Danger of a loved one dying. Empower yourself with knowledge. Attend First Aid Training. You never know when you may need to save a life.

The point I am making is that often we are afraid because we have not made the effort to analyse a situation and equip ourselves with knowledge and skills. I mean do you know how to use a fire extinguisher, or do you even have one at home?

So here is a tip. Before you do anything, free yourself from the shackles holding you back. Attend some creativity workshops – These will enable you to think outside of the box, and is in fact some of the most important learning experiences you can ever attend.

As George Bernard Shaw said: “Some people said why, but I said why not”

Drills and Simulations are NOT a Waste of Time

Last year a blogger, the Time Ninja blog ran a post – 5 Reasons To Say No To The Fire Drill that I felt was irresponsible and ignored the emergency aspect and saving of lives.

The article asked the question – ‘what would happen if you chose to say no to the fire drill? Would the earth stop spinning?  Would you lose your job?’

I responded as follows:

Whilst this is a good article, it completely misses the point of a fire drill.

fire_01Fire Drills are not time wasters. They are a necessity. Fire kills. Large buildings including warehouses have burnt to the ground in less than 15 minutes.

The objective of such a drill is to save lives.

Not only is it a legal safety issue, it is crucial for any organization that wants to protect its reputation. I mean who wants to work or do business with an organization that killed employees and hopefully not, customers as well.

The whole idea with an emergency is to be prepared and to deal with the crisis situation in an orderly and organized manner.

This brings us to a problem situation. If you are an Emergency Manager, do you run an simulation unannounced or a simulation that has been communicated before the time. The one is real, the other contrived.

IMHO it is the best to do the second. People will comply, once they fully understand the reasons WHY, not just the How. I have taken managers with a dubious outlook to the burn unit at a local hospital. Once they visited there, their whole life experience changed.

Equip people to act positively. Build on rocks, not sand.

Ultimately, this goes deeper. To be an Admired Company today, to be a Best employer, deserves attention to detail others ignore. Ultimately it is about caring. A Company that does not prepare for all eventualities will communicate a message that it stakeholders are not important, and as research shows these days, people want to do business with companies they can trust – even from a safety perspective.

NEW Business Continuity Textbook! – Rothstein Associates Inc. Business Survival ™ Weblog

I do not have a copy of this book, but will certainly place an order.

This quote got my attention about this book:

“As our world becomes ever more turbulent the field of business continuity and risk management increases in importance, often warranting Board-level attention. Organizations must proactively prepare for the future by mitigating risk whilst managing uncertainty through well considered policies, procedures, structure, systems and business culture to react to potentially harmful events as they unfold. In this way, their survival is less likely to be threatened and it will be more likely that their goals will be attained. Too many times we have witnessed business disaster because an organization failed to fully recognize the importance of business continuity and risk management or simply adopted a piecemeal and unsystematic approach.

NEW Business Continuity Textbook! – Rothstein Associates Inc. Business Survival ™ Weblog.

“Practitioners constantly emphasize the necessity of a holistic approach and I am pleased to see this new book by Kurt Engemann and Douglas Henderson does just that. It is also important to blend theory with practice in this hands-on field; again this is accomplished by the authors of this book who have extensive academic and business continuity and emergency management experience. They bring the subject to life with rich teaching and learning features, making it an essential read for students and practitioners alike.”

–Phil Kelly, DBA, Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), Fellow of the Institute of Risk Management (FIRM); Senior Lecturer, Liverpool (UK) Business School; Lead Examiner, Risk Decisions, The Institute of Risk Management (IRM)

Oh Canada: 150 hospitalized after Vancouver riots–Questions about Crowd Control

This morning the Star headline shouts – ‘Youth Day Mayhem’ – Poor Crowd Control almost leads to another tragedy’ whilst in Vancouver, Canada, 150 people are hospitalised after a crowd goes on the rampage after their team lost.

On one list, a member writes: ‘We’ve got more than our share of morons, it seems, including the noodle headed city officials who put up giant screens in the downtown area so that more than 100,000 people gathered on one street to watch the game.  What a surprise when some of those 100,000 decided to drown their sorrows in anarchy.  As a former police manager, and the survivor of two major hockey riots, all I can do is wonder at the daftness of the people who encouraged 100,000 fans to gather in one downtown area without adequate controls in place’

Crowd control is part of Emergency Response/Event planning and should have been anticipated.

In my work in Crisis Management when we do a plan and a simulation for a client, psychological factors are taken into account – such as trying to anticipate that people would want to go back into a building to get personal belongings, how people would react to messaging, etc.

In South Africa we celebrated Youth Day yesterday and poor crowd control nearly led to another tragedy at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto yesterday when people stampeded outside the stadium.

Ten years ago, on 11 April 2001, 43 fans died in a stampede at a soccer match at Ellis Park. As a result of an enquiry, various deficiencies in the procedures followed at the match were identified. Since then, problems at other live events also gained media attention, including previous President Mbeki’s narrow escape from injury when a temporary stage covering collapsed at the Union Buildings.

Last week there was a fire at a home for the aged and those with special needs and 12 people perished in a fire. There obviously was a need to take into account that some people move slowly, and I wonder if that was factored in.

The report from the New Orleans Hurricane disaster pointed out that there were two stakeholder groups who were not taken into account – those with special needs like the elderly and young children whose parents perished, as well as those owners with dangerous and weird animals like hippos in private zoos.

This obviously points to a lack of planning, and is an important lesson to us all. What we least anticipate, will happen. People will behave erratically and will not follow normal patterns. Not everyone is conditioned like the people who left the World Trade Centre in an orderly fashion.

The role of Twitter in reporting is interesting –

This raises a number of issues and concerns:

1. What standards are there to establish requirements for crowds at different types of events and crowds of various sizes? Were these followed?

2. Who were the members of the Planning or Steering Committee? Did this group include not just Law Enforcement officers, but also psychologists?

3. Did the event planners study other events and benchmarked their plans against the lessons of what happened in events like soccer?

The reason there were few incidents in South Africa during the World Cup Soccer event, was that the SA Government worked closely with FIFA and other international Law Enforcement agencies to set up standards and protocols long before the event.

Deloitte launches crisis management smartphone application

Deloitte, the business advisory firm, has developed a new smartphone application, Bamboo, to help businesses handle disasters and crises. The new application is the first one of its kind in this field and is not reliant on mobile network connectivity to work.

The smartphone application stores up-to-date disaster management procedures and action-plans in an interactive and user friendly way on employees’ mobile devices, such as the Blackberry or iPhone.

Bamboo provides:

  • Convenient access to your organisation’s crisis management, business continuity or IT disaster recovery plan, when you need it most
  • Access to latest contact details by integrating with an organisation’s existing HR and Business Continuity Management systems
  • Push technology to deliver up-to-date information which is stored locally on employees’ handsets
  • Ability to activate teams and understand individual roles during an incident
  • Easy deployment of updated or new incident management procedures and actions through a central server and software
  • Auditing and action-tracking for post-incident debriefs
  • Easy access to critical information to improve management response times
  • Ability to send notification alerts about an incident to all staff.

See Bamboo in action

Rick Cudworth, head of resilience and testing at Deloitte said: “Recent tragic events around the world continue to highlight the importance of an effective and swift incident response. Reacting quickly minimises the potential impact of a disaster on an organisation. Deloitte created Bamboo to simplify this process for both our employees and our clients.

“Clients have asked us to help them access their essential information and the technology to use it effectively. In recent incidents they found plans were out-of-date, contact details were incorrect and the telecommunications network suffered failures making voice and data communications difficult.

“During an incident, the majority of employees take only their personal belongings with them, such as wallets, keys and, of course, their mobile phones. With Bamboo, staff will now be able to access their individual action plans, regardless of location or mobile network connectivity. Management will now be able to communicate with their employees immediately to inform them of the incident, verify their safety and location, and communicate necessary actions and contact details – all via their handsets.”

Although I have not had the opportunity to use this program in action, it is in line with the protocols I always recommend in my Crisis Management workshops.

One other method that you can use in the interim until your organisation decides to use a dedicated application, is to ensure that an updated contact list and flow chart of actions to be taken, is created and put in a Dropbox application. Then, all you have to do is ensure that managers have Dropbox installed on their phones.

At least that will be a start. Other than that, make sure that you keep a copy of your crisis plan – in your car, filing cabinet and at home.

Your Crisis Communication Response Plan is Due for Maintenance (And/Or a Rewrite)

537104_41065708Any crisis communication plan that hasn’t been updated or tested in at least the last six months is fundamentally useless!

If you haven’t dusted off your plan lately, now’s the time.

The rapid evolution of citizen journalism and the collaborative Web has changed the way companies & countries need to watch for looming crises, assess the reaction to crises, and respond.

Citizen journalism, of course, is nothing particularly new, but the speed with which messages can circulate today – through the use of mobile phones, camera phones, Blackberry, Twitter and the Net-have changed the dynamics of how a crisis unfolds.

In fact, it now even has the power of getting a momentum on its own and assist in revolutions, such as what happened in Tunisia and now Egypt. Take a look at this article Egypt: The camp that toppled a president and click on the word blogger in the photo.

There are two factors at play when a story hits the Net. The first is the number of people influenced by what the person is writing, either in a mail; a tweet, a web forum or in a blog. The second is the attention paid to the spreading story by the media, which is often compelled to pick up the story and mainstream it, which makes it visible to all those people who don’t have access to the internet.

Many crisis communication plans these days don’t include specific strategies for using the Net and other forms of online communication. Have you considered and can you use the technology to use when there is a social media crisis via the Web? Do you know when and how to respond to a particular stance by a blogger or a nasty tweet? Should you even respond?

Unless you have a strategy in place and know how to use various tools and technologies you will be at a disadvantage.

Here are some questions that you have to consider:

  • How often do you monitor to determine your organisation’s name in forums, e-mails, online discussions or even in Messenger? Have you considered using online tools like Google Alerts, Cyber alert and SNS Analytics that can assist you with the process?
  • Do you participate in online networks like Linkedin and others? Since social media is about being part of a conversation, the building of trust starts long before the issue of a statement.
  • Where do you keep your plan? Hopefully you have a copy on your smartphone, in Dropbox, on the web and at home for real-time access.
  • Can you update stakeholder (audience) details in real-time? Do you make use of online address books/contact databases? You may want to consider using Gist or Plaxo for this.
  • Can you communicate with your audiences directly? How quickly can you get messages to them using social Media tools like Twitter, e-mail and SMS?
  • Have you considered using outside 3rd party experts, social media & crisis communication management experts to assist you with an independent analysis before a crisis hits?

With the emphasis today on speed, any strategic crisis communication response plan should include prioritization of audiences (stakeholders), honesty and transparency (levels of disclosure), concern for victims, and avoidance of speculation and selection of appropriate spokespersons.

But the new focus should take into account the era of the 24-hour news cycle or what David Meerman Scott calls the ‘real-time’. A Company has nanoseconds available today to respond to bad news or rumours.

That’s no joke. That’s for real and if your crisis communication response plans are not based on the ‘real-time ‘ principle it is not worth a tweet.

Don’t wait. Dust off that crisis plan before a crisis finds you.

P.S If you want to rewrite or benchmark your crisis plan, these resources can be of assistance:

An Untested Emergency Response Plan is a Source of Reputation Risk

When last has your company conducted a fire drill? Is it still in the planning phase or just not on the agenda?

The lack of organisations to have adequate emergency response plans in place is worrying. Having served as Chairperson and observer on hundreds of OHASA Committees in companies, it seems to be the one point on the Agenda where all committees get stuck.

If I ask when last; fire drills and/or emergency evacuations took place, the answer is always one – of a few years ago to it is in the planning stages. In many cases senior management are always given the blame for not allowing such an exercise to take place, as it may interrupt operational requirements.

However this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Having an Emergency Response plan is a legal requirement and non-compliance with it is a reflection of a company’s enterprise wide-risk management system.

Some of the problems that I have encountered in organisations include:

  1. Emergency Response Plans that are not up to date;
  2. Emergency Response plans that have not been tested;
  3. Emergency Response responsibility delegated to a junior who does not have the authority to implement it;
  4. Emergency Response plans not linked to the communications plan. Very often plans of this nature are not integrated into the organisations overall crisis management plan, allowing for a disjointed approach.

The ultimate objective in any emergency is to ensure that the Reputation and integrity within the organisation is maintained, by ensuring that there is no loss of life or destruction of company assets. By not having an emergency response plan in place that have been duly tested is a recipe for disaster.

If a company’s emergency response plan has not been finalised, am I correct to assume that therefore its disaster recovery and business continuity and other contingency plans are also in doubt? Is your company ready to deal with the hand of fate?

Let me explain by using a scenario and questions:

There is an explosion and subsequent destruction of infrastructure, information and loss of life at your offices. Most major media outlets in Johannesburg rush to your organisation.

The building is evacuated. The authorities and 3rd parties are involved. The evacuation is chaotic and uncoordinated and filmed in time for the early evening news and is used by Carte Blanche as an example of lack of planning.

What will your stakeholders think? The issue thus is not just one of legal compliance. It is about the message that an organisation will communicate when:

  • They are unprepared to deal with an emergency and secondly,
  • The evacuation is a shambles or worst of all in a real emergency leads to loss of life.

An emergency response plan is far more than just a plan or procedure. It is a tool to protect the biggest asset of an organisation- its Reputation, its good name!

If a fire or explosion had to happen in your building and there had to be loss of life due to lack of being prepared, the company’s reputation will be severely tarnished, as the Media will have a field day showing that a company on the one hand writes that they are a caring corporate citizen (in accordance with the King 3 Code of Corporate Governance) but that perceptions and reality does not match.

In a Court of public opinion this will be seen as not caring and it certainly goes against best practice. These days words have to be followed up with compliance and positive actions and behaviour.

Without regular exercises to test emergency response & crisis management plans (In my opinion a Crisis Management plan is the over coupling plan that includes other plans such as Emergency Response, Media & Stakeholder Communication Response, Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity) , these strategies become dormant and ineffectual in the event of a real crisis.

A false sense of security can exist in a company simply because "we have a plan. The experience gained from training establishes the company’s reputation for being prepared and able to survive.

Several types of exercises are required for proper training. A three step approach is common: Notification and Activation; Tabletop Exercises; and actual Simulations.

Training is the final step in developing an emergency response program. It is also the most important step. Many companies overlook training because of their false sense of security based on having a written plan and the expense of employee time for training. An emergency response program, like any business process, must be evaluated completely to be effective.

Not being ready for an emergency when it actually happens is a foreboding thought. How well a company responds is dependent upon its preparation and a proper emergency response plan & procedure can go a long way in preparing a company to do battle in a negative situation.

If an organisation is worthy of its reputation and is interested in maintaining its credibility, then emergency response preparations are an absolute necessity.

When bad news occurs, there are critical audiences, including your own employees, who have expectations of your behaviour and ability to manage problems.

Every one of your stakeholders will focus on your organisation’s response. How it acted, what it said, all of these will either add or distract from the organisations reputation.

The question that companies should be asking themselves is How can I safeguard my Company’s reputation in an Emergency? Because how your organisation handles an emergency and the communication thereof can either sustain or damage your organisations reputation.

Announcement: The Crisis Manager Toolkit

They say that when a crisis strikes, how you act in the first few minutes determines the final outcome. With more companies developing crisis or disaster recovery plans they can turn to if the unthinkable ever happens, service providers are not far behind, hoping to offer them the right solutions for the job.

Numerous crises ranging from product Recalls to Oil spills to Social Media crises have again highlighted the importance for companies to be prepared. REPUCOMM has launched a crisis management toolkit that can assist companies to create a workable crisis management and crisis communication response plan for the business.

‘If you have an emergency situation that needs to be dealt with, the last thing you want to be doing is worrying about how to deal with it or worry how to keep all your stakeholders informed.’ said Deon Binneman. ‘Being prepared is an ethical responsibility to stakeholders’.

The Toolkit

The Crisis Manager Toolkit is a highly effective, low cost solution to assist any company to develop workable crisis management action and communication response plans and is a useful resource that can assist any manager in this phase and during a crisis, and can serve as a benchmarking instrument. It consists of a ZIPPED file format that contains useful information such as the following:

  • Detailed questionnaires, articles and checklists to prompt thinking processes whilst planning and preparing response plans;
  • Various guidelines and tip sheets ranging from stakeholder communication templates to dealing with the Media tips sheets;
  • Handy templates and forms;
  • A Copy of a 2 – day course consisting of a PowerPoint presentation that can be customised for internal training and information sharing use with the Board, executives and staff;
  • A 40 page Crisis Management & Communication Response Plan Template as well as a copy of an Emergency Response plan template;
  • Guidelines on how to respond to Internet Reputation Crises, including Social Media Guidelines on Twitter, Facebook and Blogging crises.

The Benefits

The benefits of the toolkit are numerous including:

j04022261. It allows for preplanning and development of a plan instead of employing outside professionals at the outset of such a project. Whilst having independent input is essential, it can save a lot of costs if the groundwork have been completed.

2. Many organisations do not have the capacity to have a fulltime Crisis Manager position but that does not absolve them of the necessity of planning for dealing with the hand of fate. Today stakeholders of an organisation expect an organisation to be ready to deal with all calamities as well as the unique communication challenges that these situations bring. But in many organisations plans exist in various forms and guises. Plans exist as Disaster Recovery (IT related), Business Continuity, Occupational Health & Safety & Emergency Response plans, and Communication Response plans (PR/Communication). Sometimes these plans are coordinated, sometimes they are not. I believe that all of these plans should be integrated in an overall crisis management response plan for the organisation.

3. Self- Study. The toolkit is a tremendous aid for those who want to bring themselves up to speed with the latest development in crisis management thinking & crisis communication response. The kit contains a complete PowerPoint presentation with leaders guide notes prepared and facilitated by Deon Binneman the past 14 years.

4. Benchmarking – What works? What does not? What does international best practice and experience teach us? The CM Toolkit is a useful product that you can use to see if your plans stand up against best practice. Are you ready?


The rationale behind the toolkit is as follows:

Recent media reports and other business and natural disasters have again just illustrated the need for companies to plan for all eventualities including the communication challenges that is created during these eventualities. The actual process of emergency planning and crises communication management is a vital one if companies want to safeguard their assets, minimise their risks and uphold their hard-earned reputation.

Two thoughts can guide us in this process, the words stated by Benjamin Disraeli “What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least, generally happens”, and the fact that Noah built the Ark days before it rained.

Years and years of experience have proven that the companies who copes the best with crises of all kinds are those who are prepared to deal with the hand of fate. Those companies who have set in motion processes to minimise potential crises. Companies who cope successfully with crises are normally companies who have a predetermined plan of action including communication response plans.

Crises management is defined as the ability of an organisation to deal quickly, efficiently, and effectively with contingency operations with the goal of reducing the threat to human health and safety, the loss of public or corporate property, adverse impact on normal Business continuance, and damage to it’s good name – it’s Reputation.

The toolkit is a useful resource that can assist any manager in this phase and during a crisis, and can serve as a benchmarking instrument.

Here is a quick questionnaire (Based on a very detailed 11 page plus one in the toolkit) that can guide your decision to purchase the toolkit – See my blog post How up to date is your Crisis Management Plan? as well as the post How Reputation Event/ Crisis-Ready is your Organization?


POA – The toolkit is in a PDF and PowerPoint Format can be e-mailed to customers.

To find out more about the Toolkit, contact Deon Binneman. Tags:

What works in Communicating Bad News to Management and the Board?

A Few nights ago someone contacted me for advice on the above question. This was my partial response:

If you are an internal manager the situation is as follows:

It is always hard to get on top of things once the cat is out of the bag.  But in any event, it is best to follow the basic rules of Crisis Communications.

  1. Don’t add to the crisis by jumping the gun before you have the facts.
  2. Gather the facts.
  3. Determine who is going to speak for your organization.
  4. Make sure they are prepared.
  5. Act quickly, give the media as much information as possible, they’ll get the information from other sources.
  6. Never speculate.
  7. Protect the integrity and reputation of the organization, inform what your policy is, what action the organization plans to take and why.
  8. Protect your organizations clients.  In this case make sure they are aware of any actions which could affect them or their treatment.

After it is all over, it would be a good time to meet with management and promote the importance of putting a crisis communications plan in place for the organization and make sure you are on the contact list for anything that happens in the future. I hope this helps a bit, I am sure others will have additional thoughts.

To sum up, here’s how you should – and should not – handle media communications when a crisis hits your firm:

  • Respond quickly, professionally, and positively.
  • Don’t dribble out the story, making it necessary for the media to seek other sources.
  • Be forthright and thorough when answering media questions.
  • Don’t minimize the crisis by simply issuing a press release. Address the media in person through a press conference or small briefing with key reporters.
  • Never say "no comment" when responding to questions; rather, admit what you don’t know and promise to get the facts later.
  • Make sure facts are accurate and correct.
  • Be consistent in your message.
  • Use statistics and lists to help emphasize your points. They also have a better chance of being picked up in the story.

No one can foresee every possible crisis, but with a good action plan and media training on your side, your firm can at least ensure media coverage that sends the right messages.

A Crisis Simulation Checklist


Got a random call the other day from a Powerlines reader who asked me how I would critique a Crisis simulation exercise.

Here is an extract of my partial response:

I try and always facilitate a process with the group after a simulation to process the learning experience after a simulated crisis.

This involves each person providing a 2 – minute feedback about how they experienced the simulation, what they believed went well and the areas necessary for improvement  as well as completing an exercise critique form.

Apart from their feedback, this is what I will be looking for during a simulation:

  1. Adherence to plans -  I will need to review the plans beforehand, and verify adherence to plans during the exercise (but see below)
  2. Improvisation – cautiously review any improvised steps and assess these against:a) divergence from plans, i. e. have plans turned out to be dysfunctional, b) personalities, i.e. have individuals improvised to the benefit of the organisation
  3. Behaviour and personality interaction- how do people react to the challenge, albeit simulated. IMHO this is the most difficult area to look at, but it is something that must be done to reflect on people’s abilities.
  4. Outcome – how did the organisation perform against pre-set expectations or defined outcomes.
  5. Discontinuities – failed, aborted, modified exercises, or generally the underlying reasons for an exercise that went wrong.

What do you look for?

Aspen’s Crisis Expensive

There is a full page spread today on page 16 of the Star newspaper featuring an advertisement by Aspen Nutritionals entitled ‘’ASPEN’s S26 ASSURANCE OF QUALITY’’

Obviously such an advertisement is costly, but what is more important? Protecting your Reputation or the cost? The advertisement clearly spells out what makes the product great.

See also statement: Aspen Pharma – News Room – Quality of S-26 in South Africa Guaranteed

The Tanzanian Health authorities recently withdrew S26-1 from the market in that country following 4 complaints regarding the quality of the product. The advertisement spells out the reasons – possible counterfeiting and non-adherence to required storage conditions. It further states that Aspen is actively investigating the matter and will take measures required to ensure the matter is managed.

This example offers a number of lessons for companies and Leaders:

j0431001 1. Is your company prepared for a crisis? Crisis can come in many shapes and sizes, from life safety to product safety crises to just plain allegations  and rumours.  Have you done your homework about what could go wrong and planned the relevant response? Realise that planning for a potential crisis, actually start when you launch a product.

2. In any crisis, there are a number of communication challenges. Have you planned your messages and with whom you need to communicate and on what basis?

3. Has your organisation actually simulated, tested and had your crisis plans audited by a 3rd party to provide objective oversight?

Research shows that those companies who respond quickly and decisively in a crisis**, weathers the storm best.

How prepared are you?

** REPUCOMM – my consultancy has a Crisis Management & Crisis Communication Toolkit available for purchase. This toolkit available as a download or on CD contains all the necessary information to design, develop, write and test a crisis management & crisis communication plan. It provides a fast start and could make the difference between failure and success.

Depends though on a simple premise. What do you cherish the most – Your Reputation or the cost involved in planning and prior preparation?

Your Choice!

How Reputation Event/ Crisis-Ready is your Organization?


The following self-diagnostic is not a replacement for a comprehensive crisis audit of your organization by a qualified consultant. But it may help you determine whether it’s time to initiate one!

For scoring, see legend at the bottom. Just answer Yes or No.

  1. You regularly scan your socio-political and stakeholder environment (news media, Internet, consumer surveys, etc.) for possible threats to your organization’s reputation.
  2. You regularly scan your internal environment (union issues, corporate governance issues, etc) for possible threats to your organization’s reputation.
  3. You have identified the main current potential threats to your organization’s reputation (risks are threats which are at least “medium” both in terms of likelihood and seriousness).
  4. For each of these threats, you have prepared a “what if” scenario describing how the threat would most likely unfold, and how the organization should, ideally, respond to it, including your main communication messages to stakeholders.
  5. You have prepared a set of procedures which are to be followed by managers throughout the organization, should any of these threats (or some unanticipated crisis) transpire. These procedures include specific protocols such as notifications of appropriate executives.
  6. You have designated and trained a Crisis Communication Team which is to be convened in the event of a crisis. This may be the same people who sit on your Emergency Response Team, or another group linked to it.
  7. You have prepared a comprehensive, regularly-updated database (ideally in electronic form) of all the key people you may need to reach in the event of a crisis. This includes key media contacts, key contacts in government, key managers, etc., with their home, fax, cellular telephone, twitter, instant messenger and other coordinates.
  8. You have included everything from steps 3-7 in a regularly updated crisis communication manual (paper, electronic or both) which is readily available to all your key executives and managers.
  9. You have condensed the key contact information onto a wallet card which all your key executives and managers can have with them at all times.
  10. You have tested your organization’s ability to carry out this plan and these procedures in a simulation.


Award your organization 10 points for each “yes.”

Under 50 points:
Either your organization has consciously decided it likes living dangerously or it’s living in a fool’s paradise. Let me guess: the organization also carries the least possible insurance, because one of your executives said “the premiums cost too much.”

50-60 points:

You’ve got something stuffed into your parachute sack…unfortunately you don’t know whether it’s a parachute or a dirty hanky. It’s time to turn your plan into a high priority business project with a completion deadline and support from senior management. The majority of listed type organizations fall into this category.

60-80 points:
Now you’re training for the big time! Time to focus on those few things that are keeping you in from being the leader in your field!

80 points or better:
Welcome to being a leader in your industry. You can sleep nights; at least as far as crisis preparedness is concerned. All that is required from you is to benchmark and audit compliance to ascertain levels of assurance.

The questionnaire above is just a small extract of a detailed questionnaire that is included in a product – The Crisis Manager Toolkit that is available on CD or for download. For more information and rates, send me an e-mail.

Fire Drill creates Negative Publicity

A Fire Drill in Toronto, Canada not only created panic, but it brought with it unwanted publicity.

CNN reports that Police in Toronto, Ontario, received a call at 10:47 a.m. reporting
that several armed men had entered the Bickford Centre, an adult
education center where adult literacy training and other courses are
held.Officers responded to the building and blocked off traffic on surrounding streets and the center itself.

On the scene, police soon discovered that the
“threat” was nothing more than a training exercise; the reported
suspects had simply been participating in a safety drill.

“School officials were conducting a drill but did not inform anyone else,” Vella said…..

Lesson: In any Crisis simulation(of which Emergency Response plays a small part), it is vital to determine various stakeholders communication needs and the communication protocols to be followed during such a crisis.

In this case, good intentions, but lack of planning sank the ship.

WHO raises pandemic alert to Level Five – The second-highest level

The World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to its second-highest level Wednesday, indicating the outbreak of swine flu that originated in Mexico is nearing widespread human infection. Dr. Margaret Chan, the U.N. agency’s director-general, said the decision to raise the alert to level five on its six-point scale means all countries "should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans." for the full article.

The declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

What are you doing to prepare your organization against this? Beware thinking that this will not impact locally.

Look at today’s newspaper headlines……

I would suggest an urgent revamp of your Crisis Management & Crisis Communication plans. How ready are you?

The time to act is now!

Oops! This was not meant to happen!

Oops! This was not meant to happen!

j0341502Nobody was supposed to question South Africa’s readiness to deal with Health & Safety and Emergency Management issues!

Who would dare question the number of advanced life care paramedics in this country (Carte Blanche – – See paramedics show)?

Now we have the fire chief at Cape Town Airport resigning ( after information was released showing that two-thirds of the 62 fire fighters stationed at Cape Town International Airport are “poorly trained” and have little or no general fire fighting experience.

Both reports are scandalous and raises some serious questions and concerns about levels of preparedness for crises and emergencies in organisations.

Do you want to tell me that the authorities do not know or understand that Health & Safety is an international non-negotiable right and directly involved in the creation of a favourable reputation of a country and its people? (Emergency management is an integral part of the Occupational Health & Safety Act)

No wonder that today’s Star reports that an international tourism expert Linda Pereira said that myths and negative perceptions abroad about South Africa’s high rate of violent crime could prevent the desired number of foreign visitors from attending next year’s Fifa World cup (See article on Page 7 of The Star newspaper today).

I guess the word myths is a misnomer, because every day more and more negative publicity is coming to the fore of this country’s non-readiness state. Whilst she is correct that tourism bodies must try and dispel negative perceptions, it is pointless if other parties do not understand the value of a country’s reputation.

How dumb can leadership be? Last year we had the investigation into Mine Safety, and that put our mining sector under the spotlight. Did the rest of the country really think they were going to stay immune? This is the problem about managers not understanding reputation and issues management. An Issue in one sector can spiral into other sectors. And in South Africa, there are still managers who do not realise the damage articles and negative TV programs can do to a country.

The two examples are classical Reputation Risk case studies. It is obvious that there have been an inability to deal, with issues at source and when they are small.

It is also clear that for too long, management has paid lip-service to Health & Safety issues. In most organisations , even the liberated ones, OHASA matters have been seconded to a second –tier individual with an attitude of ‘’we will deal with it when it comes’’. In many organisations, executives are always too busy to attend OHASA committees, ask any Health & Safety representative.

Why? Well, I think the reason is simple. Managers and staff are instructed to be Health & Safety, and never sold the real reasons why, as well as the long-term benefits. Most managers take is…again we will deal with it when it comes…

Dealing with issues and complying with matters such as basic Health & Safety standards are not just compliance or Public Relations responsibility, the process plays a part in building the reputation of an institution or country.

What managers need to understand is that reputation manifests when perceptions and reality meet, and the reality is that South Africans will have to do a whole lot more to build, sustain and protect this beautiful country’s reputation.

IOL: Toxic water killed E Cape babies – report

I just read this article IOL: Toxic water killed E Cape babies – report and there are a few items that I would like to use as discussion and learning points. I will raise my comments in italics.

  • An interim report acknowledged that a “multiplicity of causes” including “systematic failures affecting water quality” were to blame for the deaths of the babies, said the provincial government in a statement.

This statement in itself is already a warning for Crisis Managers in organizations. Problems tend to occur in clusters. When one problem or barrier has been identified, there will most likely be others associated with it. A staff member who does not show responsibility because of undefined or unrealistic work expectations will likely also show a level of distrust in his or her superiors. It is essential to identify the nature of the multiple barriers and problems and to deal with the whole cluster.

Problems and barriers also tend to sustain and reinforce each other. Suppose, for example, that the effectiveness and quality of communication between a municipal manager and a government office are hampered because he mistrusts them and they are geographically distant from each other.

The geographic distance will reduce the likelihood that the mistrust will be overcome, and, at the same time, the mistrust prevents the bridging of the distance. Although one problem may be eliminated, interdependency means that the force of the other sustaining problems may counteract the effort.

To solve problems before they escalate into crisis  situations will need systemic thinking. Holistic thinking needs to be taught – it does not come naturally.

  • The report states that urgent action, including declaring an emergency in the area, was apparently recommended but not carried out. This sounds just like what happened when Hurricane Latrina (I know it is supposed to be Katrina, but when all the effluent and waters mixed it became like a latrine)struck. It took the Mayor of New Orleans 48 hours to enact his plan.

This raises serious doubt over the ability of municipalities to react to disasters and emergencies. I wonder how many of these municipalities comply with the Disaster Management Act. I wonder how many comply with international best practice when it comes to testing of plans.

  • An official health report, tabled two weeks at a closed council meeting, indicated there had been a breakdown in a water purification works in October last year.

Yet no action was taken. It is called Assumptions. To assume that staff will repair something is naive. To assume that a small insignificant issue does not have the potential to cause harm is naive and it points directly to the type of thinking methodologies employed by managers and employees.

  • The report states that the Cloete Joubert Hospital in Barkly East failed to report the deaths in time for a proper investigation but a senior hospital manager said the municipality did nothing until 15 deaths were reported.

This points directly to communication failures, and it raises serious points with regards to incident reporting mechanisms, internal communication structures and process flow. I wonder who in Government looks at these type of things. Who conducts Communication audits? Who ensures that these types of issues are addressed.

GCIS? I doubt it. The Health Department Communication staff? I doubt it! Internal Communication needs regular attention. It needs auditing.

  • On Wednesday, the provincial government said other socio-economic factors were also to blame including poor service delivery, environmental health and human resource “challenges”.For example there had been inadequate intravenous fluids and antibiotics to deal with the babies who became ill.

This again highlights lack of planning and supply chain management. Something is wrong with the system. It is a known fact in Organizational Development circles that a bad system will always beat a good employee’s intentions. Lack of Service delivery points directly to leadership.

In the Private sector there is consequences when there is failure and lack of performance. In local government there is cover ups and progression up the ranks because the only criteria used is that of political clout.

  • The report also states that people did not have enough Health education.

This is a rural area and there are difficulties in communication sure enough. However it points directly to the authorities.Water, Health and Hygiene issues fall into the realm of Risk communication. Again I must question risk communication efforts in municipal districts as well as the ability of any organization to conduct crisis communication.

Just to enlighten my readers, Crisis communication refers to communication about an unfortunate event or occurrence that can hurt people, organizations, and economies, among other things. Risk communication refers to communication related to the health and safety of people and the environment.

While we can see that the principles of risk communication sometimes pertain to crisis communication… It is also clear that not all risk communication is crisis communication, and, conversely, not all crisis communication is risk communication.

The message of how to deal with a water contamination situation – now that it is a crisis situation, is that Crisis Communication or Risk Communication? Read the last 2 paragraphs of the news release, and let me know what you think.

Climatology Warnings by Citizen Reporters can be dangerous

There was chaos the past week in Johannesburg.

On Monday afternoon it took me 3 hours to get home from the Airport. During the bumper to bumper traffic journey I got frantic calls from my family asking me where I was and how long it would be before I get home. Apparently they had heard on the radio and via friends that a massive storm would be breaking in Johannesburg.

I personally was not that worried having seen the warning in the paper in the morning, because recently we have had a fair amount of rain and accompanying thunderstorms, with some areas more hit than others. But these new developments were scary.

However it later turned out that the panic seemed to have been caused by a hoax e-mail that did the rounds. Apparently a prankster or  "citizen journalist" added to the news. An employee of a respected company received a hoax e-mail about an impending storm (expected tornado) that would hit the area. Immediately this person forwarded the message to some friends who did the same.

The hoax emails stated that Gauteng was in the path of hurricanes and tornadoes. Soon the rumours were spreading, the message was picked up by traditional media and soon city buildings were evacuated and government departments sent staff home early to escape the weather.

The emails, some bearing the signature of a Netcare employee or altered Netcare logos, warned residents not to underestimate the South African Weather Service’s standard thunderstorm warnings.

Netcare has confirmed that an employee did send an email warning to five close friends about impending bad weather on Monday morning but said the email was embellished before being forwarded. Calling the incident an embarrassment, the company said it was inundated with phone calls within an hour of the original email being sent.

Disaster management, emergency services, metro police and firefighters were put on alert in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The South African Revenue Service also issued a memo warning employees about the impending storms after speaking to the national weather service, spokesperson Adrian Lackay said.

For the emergency services provider ER24, Monday’s email joke proved to be costly. "Our controllers were flooded with calls from distressed community members wondering what they should do," said Werner Vermaak, ER24’s public information officer. "We even had calls asking us to help take children out of school."

Lines to the South African Weather Service were jammed solid for hours on Monday afternoon, as the public clamoured for answers. "We had issued a forecast for rain and the possibility of severe thunderstorms but it is not unlike the warnings we’ve issued in the past couple of weeks," said senior service meteorologist, Lee-ann Clark.

While tornadoes have been known in South Africa, hurricanes are unlikely to hit landlocked Gauteng anytime soon.

This event has some learnings for organizations:

  1. Have you informed, educated, instructed and trained your employees in the clever use of the Internet? Like what? This – resource checking, double checking of facts, not just relying on one source..The importance of using Web 2.0 technologies such as RSS newsreaders?
  2. Have you made it clear to employees that they should refrain from sending on messages, without consultation and forethought? I receive countless rumours, humour and innuendos daily, but seldom send anything on.
  3. Have you built into your Media Policy and Reputation Risk Management framework, safeguards against the potential harm and impact that citizen journalists can bring to the table?
  4. How quickly can you communicate with your target audiences should there be a crisis?

What organizations need to understand is that the role of citizen reporters are escalating and that the potential for negative publicity is on the increase. As long as a person has a mobile phone, laptop or PC , a modem they can post information anywhere, any time – to blogs, and other channels.

However technology also provides us with tools to communicate faster, more elegantly and effectively. I would deem it important that organizations have as part of their Crisis Management plans, technologies such as bulk e-mail and SMS software so that they can send out messages quickly if there is a crisis.Provided databases are kept up to date.Again you may want to explore the use of software such as Palxo to assist you with this mammoth task.

Others even have "dark websites" – websites that can be up and running and on the Net in a couple of minutes.

Again it is about preperation, forethought and creative solutions to problems.

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Preparing your Organization to deal with the Worst

For the past 11 years I have been an independent consultant focusing on Corporate Reputation. Yet, there is another side to me. I am also a trainer and consultant in Occupational Health & Safety Compliance and it is a passion of mine.

For the past 11 years I have also been doing Health & Safety training a few days a month on behalf of an ISO registered OSHA Compliance consultancy.

What I find so enticing is to raise people’s awareness of health & safety issues in the workplace. After these workshops delegates cannot express enough gratitude and the statements are always universally the same: “Thank you for raising my awareness”!

The South African Occupational Health & Safety Act has a number of conditions and issues that has made it one of the most benchmarked Acts in the world. One of the interesting requirements and questions that arise from it: "Have you given the employee adequate information, education, and training in his task considering the task, the hazards, potential outcomes and consequences of non-compliance"?

It is only when we comply with that statement that wecan say we have raised the level of awareness in a person.

Let’s apply this question then to Crisis Management. How do we make people more aware about potential crises in the workplace? This question should interest all managers.

I believe that it is necessary to expose managers to crisis management type of thinking, that we educate and train managers how to prepare for and manage crises, and that we share our knowledge.

Recently I had the opportunity of standing at the top of the Empire State Building in New York. Standing there with the wind blowing me nearly off my feet, I could not help but visualize friends jumping of the burning World Trade Centre.

911 has come and gone. Yet for many organisations the impact, reality and lessons from it does not remain. How many organisations have not slipped back into the normal mode of doing things? Assuming that an incident like 911 will never happen to them?

Recently I was in a building in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa when I decided to use the fire escape instead of the lift, but between the 3rd and 4th floor was a locked gate. When I called the Facilities manager he said the following words to me: "Deon, you worry too much. If a fire breaks out, someone will come and unlock this gate!" No way, in my experience most people look out for number one in any crisis – themselves.

Standing at the 911 site, the thought arose in my mind as to what should an organization do if you are faced with a situation that is beyond an organisation’s normal scope to act? Health & Safety experts teach that 2% of accidents are "Acts of God", 10% caused by unsafe conditions but that 88% of accidents are caused by unsafe behavior.

How does a company deal with the hand of fate and at the same time protect its reputation and integrity? How can a company come out "smelling like roses".

One simple lesson is that stakeholders will forgive you for mistakes, but they will not forgive a company for not caring. Therefore in line with industry experience a company who aims to be a good corporate citizen should prepare for any eventual crisis. But for what and how? Since 9/11, nearly every emergency preparedness and business continuity regulation and industry best practice in the USA has been strengthened, several even mentioning the threat of terrorism as a prime motivation for their enhancements. In South Africa, interest seems to be only to cope with the demands of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Considering the following points will help you prepare your organization for the worst.

1. Remember that the very things you believe cannot happen to your organisation can. Professor Ian Mitroff, who for more than 20 years headed up the Institute for Crisis Management ran a crisis management workshop in New York about two weeks before 911 happened. Most of the executives present, represented multi-national companies. In compiling likely risks, car bombs featured at the top of the list. However no one mentioned "flying bombs". Mitroff goes on to say that something is lacking, and that "That something is our ability to think comprehensively about crisis". Are you thinking comprehensively about crisis?

2. Equip yourself with knowledge so that you can help your organization be better prepared. One of the most frequent comments I hear from clients is not that they do not know the answers, but that they don’t know the right questions to get started in their planning or to persuade management to allocate resources for this planning. You can read the various good books out there in shops or you could equip yourself in the short term by attending training workshops such as REPUCOMM’s Crisis Management & Communication workshops.

3. Talk to the specialists (consultants, local authorities and emergency management service providers) in your area. If possible, contact your suppliers and find out who has done this type of planning before so that you can reduce your organisation’s learning curve.

4. Revisit the basics of crisis management. I walk into many organisations to do OSHA Compliance workshops only to find out that the organisation have not recently conducted any fire drills, if any. To assume that everyone will be able to escape the building and be accounted for is dangerous. One large firm affected by 9/11 took more than three days to account for its personnel because they lost their primary means to track and contact employees. 

5. Appoint one person who is responsible for crisis preparedness across the organization and communicate his or her identity to managers at all levels. Ensure each crisis planning team (strategic crisis management, business continuity, crisis communications, disaster recovery, emergency response, employee impact, etc.) knows the relationship between their plan(s) and the overall organization’s crisis management goals and objectives. (REPUCOMM provides a two day training course that enables managers to create one integrated crisis management action plan that can assist you)

6. Audit your organisation’s crisis plans. The audit should cover evacuation/egress planning, personnel accountability, emergency system shutdown procedures, correct names/numbers on emergency phone lists, media and other stakeholder communications guidelines, family communications guidelines, expectations for employee communications and support.

6. Consider holding a tabletop exercise or discussion around a likely event. Brainstorm likely crises; determine the roles each team member is expected to play while responding to an incident will help identify strengths and weaknesses in your organization’s ability to respond, especially for teams requiring interaction during the response. Scenario planning is a helpful tool leading to overall preparedness. No organization does everything well, and exercises are a terrific way to highlight improvement needs for multiple areas at one time. (REPUCOMM works together with organisations to design, develop and facilitate likely scenarios unique to that organisation)

7. Nearly every survey taken after 9/11 has shown that the most overlooked area of crisis preparedness is the human and communication side. When Saambou, the South African bank closed down one employee committed suicide. Work closely with EAP (Employee Assistance) experts, psychologists, the church and other specialists to determine modes of action prior to problems happening. Communication is integral to making any plan work and should be factored in from the outset.

8. It isn’t enough to know that your organization is better prepared. The impact of a crisis may become an industry issue and affect your business. Build alliances with suppliers and industry experts before a crisis breaks, so that you can make use of this expertise when the time comes.

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How effective is your company’s Emergency Response Plan?

A South African newspaper called the Beeld this week featured front page footage including dramatic colour photos of the Seaboard Hotel fire in Durban, South Africa with a caption: “Hotel-Inferno: Helicopters win battle against time to save 80 from roof”. It also featured another section a day later about the panic of people in the building – see –,,3-975_2136981,00.html

I wonder how many organization’s employees actually saw this and wondered (or doubted) about their organisation’s readiness to deal with a life-safety situation. However this was not the only articles in that paper dealing with such situations. Two other articles caught my eye. One dealt with the fire at the Renault Dealer workshop in Roodepoort where four cars were damaged when a fire broke out and the other story dealt with the 18 months old child that was mauled by a Bengal Tiger. In this story the father lost his one finger when they came to close to the fence and the tiger managed to grab the child and pull her towards him.

What struck me was that the camp has adequate signage and has been declared safe by the authorities, AND that the camp is popular with some schools because of its reputation for safety. Unfortunately signage is no guarantee that people have read and understood the message. So few of us ever bother to read the instruction manual of an appliance that we buy; until it breaks.

The problem with many safety drives and emergency response and crisis management plans is that they tend to focus on physical safe situations. Interestingly accident statistics have shown that 2% of accidents can be referred to as “acts of god” meaning that it is outside our level of control, that 10% of accidents are caused by unsafe situations and 88% caused by unsafe behaviour.

Hence the inherent danger – Human Behaviour remains the key weak link in any plan.Often we plan without considering the intangibles that can make a difference such as adequate communication and consideration for human behavior. People do not always react as planned and we need to take this into account.

Events such as the Virginia Tech shootings and disturbances at schools across the USA and in South Africa (teachers killed at school, teachers participating in industrial action and pupil violence including scissor attacks) have also illustrated the role and importance of crisis management preplanning and communications in an emergency and have reiterated the critical need for heightened emergency preparedness and response at schools, businesses and universities throughout South Africa. 

But what is an Emergency? An emergency is any unplanned event that can cause deaths or significant injuries to employees, customers or the public; or that can shut down your business, disrupt operations, cause physical or environmental damage, or threaten the facility’s financial standing or reputation.

Emergency management is the process of preparing for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from an emergency. Emergency management is a dynamic process. Planning, though critical, is not the only component. Training, conducting drills, testing equipment and coordinating activities with the community are other important functions.

In Powerlines Number 65 dated August 2006  I wrote an article called "An Untested Emergency Response Plan is a Source of Reputation Risk – The link between Reputation & Emergency Response ". I also mentioned in it that I had teamed up with a company called Scott-Safe to design and write emergency response plans that are benchmarked and compliant. Few people contacted me. This got me thinking: Do people actually care? How do they know that the Emergency Response plan of the organisation is compliant and tested? If you then have not asked that question, you should.

Or perhaps, let me ask you something personal; do you have a fire extuinghshers at home? Do you have an Emergency Response plan for your own home? Recently a delegate told a group about how they woke up at 3. 22 a.m. to find their house completely covered in smoke. They had to crawl their way out and their whole house burned down.

So when last have you taken a good look at those signs on the wall that tell you what to do in an emergency? When last where you part of a drill and how did it go?

Or do you honestly still believe that it will never happen to me?

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