Subject: Manage for Success: Crisis Management (Newsletter #5, September 2001)
Mere words cannot truly express our sadness and grief at the events of September 11. We hope you, your families, and staff are all safe.
I've postponed my planned message for this month, and instead have devised a quick guide to what to do in the event of an emergency.
As the horrific events of the past week have shown, it is imperative that all businesses have a viable crisis management program in place. This applies even to record labels.
What is crisis management?
It's what you have to do to stay in business after unexpected circumstances occur and things have gone to hell -- be it fire, earthquake, tornado, flood, catastrophe, or terrorism. It's putting into effect the prior planning you've done should a crisis occur.
And don't think it can't happen to you. I remember very well the aftermath of a severe Los Angeles earthquake some years ago. I walked into my office in Santa Monica at around 8:30 on the morning of the quake to find a complete and utter mess. File cabinets had been thrown to the floor, many twisted out of shape. Most computers and monitors had been tossed onto the floor. (Amazingly, they all worked when power was restored -- thanks to the ruggedness of Apple Macintosh designs; the PCs hadn't fared as well!) CDs and cassettes were all over the floor of the stock room. Supply cabinets had also been tossed to the floor, and paper was everywhere. Luckily no glass had broken so we were structurally intact. Electricity existed sporadically, and in only part of the space. Telephones were not working for lack of electricity and later on because you couldn't get a dial tone. Cell phones were haphazard at best.
When phone service was restored we called everyone on staff who could be reached to ascertain their well-being and requested they try to make it to work the next day. Since many freeways were down, it took some staffers three hours to get in. Others lived close enough to bike to work. Some brought their kids, who were a great help in straightening up the office space, arranging CDs and putting them back in their cartons, etc. Luckily a nearby pizza place was functioning so we were able to feed everyone.
Here's what you have to arrange for:
First, be sure you have up-to-date, fully-comprehensive contact information for everyone on your staff, and then a plan in place as to how to reach everybody in times of emergency. This list should be set up in different fashion depending on the nature of what post-crisis communications capability may be available.
The easiest way is to have the most senior person contact department heads, whose responsibility it is to contact each and every person who works under them. You can refine this further, based on the size of the company.
If communication is dicey or just not available, then an arrangement should be made based on adjacency. In other words, the most senior person in a neighborhood would walk, bike, or drive to the next nearest person in order to ascertain the well-being of the employee, and give out information as to if and how the company will be operating over the next many days, stating location and materials or equipment needed, etc. Continue on down the line, either as a round-robin, or through other pre-defined methods.
Space: If you think that your office or prime place of business may not available to you, whether for a few days, or indefinitely, you'll need to have a back-up plan in place as to how you're going to operate. Perhaps you'll work out of a conveniently located hotel, your living room, or that of someone on staff who may be more centrally located, assuming that location will be accessible. Allow for alternate locations in your plan. But be sure you have sufficient materiel available to support your key operating staff. You'll need all of the following, and don't forget extension cords, lights, etc.
Furniture: Based on the size of essential staff, plan as to how you'll "house" them with sufficient work-surface space. It may be folding chairs and tables, or empty cardboard cartons that can be pressed into service.
Communications: If phone systems are temporarily inoperative try to rely on cellular phones, but only for essential conversations. However, under certain circumstances cellular transmitters may be incapacitated or temporarily non-functioning. Consider reasonable alternatives, short of smoke signals.
Computer Hardware: All available (reachable) staff who have company-owned portables or laptops must make them available. Other key personnel who have their own laptops should be asked to bring them.
Try to have available in your back-up space a couple of Ethernet hubs and sufficient cables to help you operate. Otherwise you'll have to resort to "sneaker-net," using floppies, zip disks, or other available removable media.
Software: Prior to any crisis, be sure that all important and essential business programs have been installed on the laptops of people who may need them in the event of an emergency, and that they're kept up-to-date.
Printers: Try to have at least one available in your back-up space. It should be Ethernet-capable so it can be shared by all who need it.
Copiers: Try to have at least one available in your back-up space.
Fax: Try to have at least one available in your back-up space, along with a suitable phone line, assuming communications are functioning.
Internet Access: Talk with your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and work out an emergency back-up plan.
Mail and Courier Service: Ascertain if the Post Office, UPS, FedEx, etc. are functioning, or how soon they expect to be back in business.
Use the most recent back-ups of all your essential accounting and operating data and databases, etc. You DO have back-ups don't you? And will they be readily accessible to you in an emergency? Planning for this is essential, because as likely as not, someday you'll need them, perhaps not during a "crisis" but when key files have somehow become corrupted. You might look at the myriad of back-up information at the following web site, among others: <http://www.dantz.com>.
Then copy your best and most appropriate back-ups onto the laptops of those who will need them, and resume work as best you can. Be careful how you maintain these newly updated files so that they can be re-loaded onto your corporate computers when you're able to get back into your office.
Besides software, you'll likely have to reorganize the available staff, reassigning responsibilities as necessary in order for the company to continue to function.
I've made only a few, elemental suggestions here, but hopefully it'll help you think about what you'll have to do to protect your business and your staff. There's a fair amount of knowledgeable material available on the web, so I encourage you to dig it out, read it thoroughly, and then come up with a crisis management plan that works for your company.