by Lori Prosio 

I’ve been managing crisis planning and response for the better part of my 20-year career, and the most important piece of info I can give is to stress the importance of being prepared.

Hopefully you’ll never have to use a crisis plan, but in light of a number of crises in the media, it reminded me that it’s always nice to have a plan for a worst-case scenario.

Other than potentially hiring a consultant, here is what your company should have in place long before a crisis ever hits:

Identification and classification

Go through an annual company exercise of drafting potential crisis scenarios that could impact your business and outline protocols and reactions to respond to the scenarios. This can help you determine what classifies as an actual crisis and what could make you look like Chicken Little waiting for the sky to fall. Anticipation is key, but readiness is paramount.

Identify your spokespeople

Make sure you know who is on your crisis-response team and who you’ll designate to represent, and quite likely speak, on behalf of your business. Make sure individuals are knowledgeable and not easily rattled and can put your organization in the best light if they have to go on camera or on record. Remember, top-level executives aren’t always the best choice and may not always be available, so choose your communicators carefully.

Determine who will be affected

Identifying stakeholders for each crisis scenario makes it easier to know who to inform when something happens. External stakeholders can include your customers, the community, law enforcement/first responders and the media. But don’t forget internal stakeholders – your employees and partners need to know what’s going on, too.

Prepare your message

Now that you’ve identified the what and the who, determine how you should/will respond. Draft key messages and prepared statements that acknowledge and address, but don’t over-inform or seem suspiciously misleading. Of course, your final messages will need to be vetted when and if an actual crisis occurs, but knowing the gist of what you can and won’t say can keep your spokespeople on-topic. Also, don’t forget to draft generic statements for the whole organization in the event that they are randomly contacted by outside entities.

Deliver the message

Identify information and news sharing opportunities and strategies. Social media, particularly Twitter, can play a big hand here, but make sure the information you send out includes prepared and approved messaging.

Make sure part of your planning includes building and regularly updating a database of vendor, partner and customer contacts and employee email.

You may also be contacted by media, so make sure you develop (and regularly update) local, regional, statewide and national media lists for quick response or proactive outreach.

Anticipating potential issues and creating a plan can go a long way toward ensuring that your crisis response is proactive, rather than reactive.

A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2, 2016 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.