Even Small, Mid-sized Firms Need a Crisis Management Plan

With risks to companies and employees growing, sometimes the unthinkable happens and a business has a real crisis on its hands.

While large companies are usually well-prepared for a crisis should one occur, most small and mid-sized firms don’t have the resources or have not put much thought into how they would handle a crisis.

One of the most difficult parts of crisis planning is that you will often not know what you are planning for as a crisis could be a number of different events, like:

  • The sudden death of a key member of your team could lead to operational issues.
  • A defective product leads to an injury, illness – or worse.
  • An accident severely maims or kills a number of your workers.

 

To get started, assemble a team that includes key members from your organization who will be responsible for creating your crisis-response plan. Inc. Magazine recommends the following for your team:

 

Make a plan – You cannot start planning without first identifying your objectives. Once you identify them, you can make response plans for each type of event. Typically, that includes:

  • Safeguarding any person (employee, vendor, customer and/or the public) who may be affected by the crisis. Your plan would include how to respond to the crisis if people’s health and wellness at stake.
  • Making sure the organization survives. This would include steps you would take to ensure the company can continue as a going concern after a significant disruption.
  • Keeping stakeholders (employees, vendors, clients, the public and government) informed on developments.

 

The plan should take into account how a crisis would affect your main stakeholders:

  • Your employees
  • Your customers
  • Your vendors
  • The public
  • Your company’s value and reputation.

 

Create a succession plan – You should clearly outline the necessary steps to follow if you or one of your key managers suddenly became unable to perform their duties. This plan may include selling the company, or transferring ownership to family members or key employees.

 

Seek advice from the experts – This includes your leadership team, employees, customers, communications experts, investment bankers, exit planners, lawyers and financial managers. Each of these individuals has unique insights that can be invaluable for how to tackle a crisis.

 

Name a spokesperson – This is important if you have a crisis that spreads beyond your organization and affects the health and safety of a member of the general public, your staff or customers. This kind of crisis could attract media coverage and your organization needs to be ready to respond if that happens.
Funneling all media communications through a spokesperson can help you deliver a clear and consistent message to media, as well as to the public at large.

 

Honesty is the best policy – Lie or hide details at your own risk. A lack of honesty and transparency can lead to rumors, as well as a general distrust of your organization if the truth is exposed. The best approach is to be transparent and truthful about what happened and what you are doing to resolve the crisis.

 

Keep your staff up to speed – Besides transparency with outside people, it’s crucial that you don’t keep your employees in the dark after a crisis has hit. Again, to stop the rumor mill and also keep employees from becoming worried amidst the uncertainty, keep your workers abreast of developments – and what the crisis means for the organization, and what you are doing about it. Put together a plan for keeping staff up to date.

 

Keep customers and suppliers informed – If you have an event that’s causing some disruptions, you also owe it to your clients and vendors to let them know what’s happening. Don’t let them find out from the media. Like your employees, keep them regularly updated on events and the steps you are taking to address the crisis. Put together a plan for how you would keep them posted.

 

Act fast and update regularly – Keeping the communications alive is important and once you grasp the situation and its effects, you can issue summary statements of the crisis and what’s happened. Then you can follow up with regular updates on your action plans, on people affected, any hotline you may set up, and more.
These days news travels fast and like wildfire on social media. You need to move at the same pace.

 

Social media is vital – More and more people get their news from social media and the discussions that ensue on posts, so you need to make sure that your company stays on top of the flow. You may want to assign a person or two to monitor social media and post and react to posts on social media. That way, your team can tell the company’s side of the story and put to rest unfounded rumors.
Make a plan for what a social media contact’s responsibilities would be during a crisis.


Get an early start

Your plan won’t be effective if you create it during a crisis. Plan in advance, so everyone can approach the strategizing unrushed and with a clear head.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Workplace Safety Update: Crisis Communication Plans

When you began your small business, you had a plan for getting off the ground. As time went on, you planned ahead for growth and expansion.

Do you have a plan for the crisis moments? In today’s world of instant information and Internet rumors that spread faster than wildfire, every small business must have an emergency communication plan in place – before disaster strikes.

A plan designates who will speak for the company, to whom and what entities, how the communication will occur, and, to some extent, what will be said. This provides a clear template to follow when stress and emotions are running as high as the demand for immediate response. A planned response will present as calm, informed, and in control, providing an opportunity for fair treatment in the media and helping to mitigate any damage to the company’s reputation that may occur as a result of the crisis.

What constitutes a crisis?

A crisis is anything that threatens to damage the operation of your business, including ruining its reputation. Many of them will involve workplace injuries or deaths. Recall, for example, the Sago mining disaster of 2006. Twelve miners were trapped in an underground explosion. After two days of frantic rescue attempts, word leaked out to the families – and subsequently to the media – that the miners had been found. Families gathered at the mine to await their loved ones. It was only then that their hopes were dashed by devastating news: Eleven of them were dead.

This is a major communications error, and put a black mark on the management team for years.

Frequency

Hopefully you will never have an incident that kills a dozen employees. But workplace injuries and deaths are a fact of life in many industries. A crisis preparedness study done in 2011 by Penn Schoen Berland found that 66% of the businesses it surveyed had suffered a crisis, with the number even higher in manufacturing and technology-based businesses. And if your company has a computer or a website, it is vulnerable to problems from cyberspace – from your employees doing things they shouldn’t, to breaches within your email or internet service provider or banking institutions. These aren’t life threatening, but they still require an organized and thoughtful response to both internal communications – to employees and their families – and external communications, to the community, emergency responders and the news media.

A checklist

  1. Designate a single spokesperson and ensure they are prepared. No matter the nature of the crisis or the method of response, there should be one “face” that is addressing the issue. Get key individuals some media training or, at the very least, a group of colleagues and practice.
  2. Define the top five mostly likely calamities to strike your business and its reputation.
  3. Formulate 1-2 key messages for each of these calamities, building in flexibility for specifics. What information is most important? What message needs to be heard? Make sure the message is simple enough to be understood across all media.
  4. Identify and connect with other people you may need to contact in the event of an emergency. These are people who either have information you will need before you respond, or can help you manage the response. You may have someone already performing these roles for you, or you may have to seek out consultants. Either way, do it ahead of time. Establish the relationship now, define their role in an emergency, and go over your plans with them. These may include:
  • Marketing/Public Relations professional (See #6 for more)
  • Safety/security expert
  • Regulatory agencies
  • Legal counsel
  • Insurance agents
  • Accountant
  • Internet service provider
  • Relevant media
  • Local police department
  1. Identify your communication target audiences in each of your top five most likely scenarios. These might be internal (employees, families of employees, stakeholders, clients, vendors) or external (general public, media agencies, regulatory agencies, law enforcement) contacts.
  2. Specify what channels of communication you will use. It is essential that your message be consistent across all media. If you are not comfortable with new media, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, you are not alone; according to the same PSB study mentioned above, 54% of business decision makers do not feel confident in this area. If you need to consult with a PR firm, do so, looking for expertise in social media and crisis management.
  • Email
  • Telephone
  • Your business’ voicemail message
  • Local media – print, radio, television, online
  • Website
  • Text messaging
  • Social media: Even if you don’t already have social media channels in place, you will need to use it to monitor what folks are saying about you, and to immediately respond to questions and concerns. Remember that in today’s world you are expected to communicate WITH people, not just TO them.
  1. Practice! Put each of your top five scenarios in action and practice. Prepare the people involved in each situation, and identify specifically what you are likely to need from them.

After the crisis has passed

When the dust has settled, take a deep breath and review. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are there any business or safety practices that need to change to prevent recurrence? Start making those changes.
  2. How effective was our message during the crisis? What might have worked better?
  3. Are we continuing to manage our reputation online? Have your PR person continue to monitor – and respond to – what is being said on social media, review sites, etc.
  4. How might we turn this situation into something that will work for the company? Consider developing a seminar on “What we learned,” or writing a news story or presentation.

5.What contacts were most useful? Maintain those relationships.

Insurance

Companies with a plan for handling crises before they occur handle situations more effectively and recover far more rapidly than companies without a plan. Remember: The crisis itself is less likely to put you out of business than how you handle the situation. Having a plan ahead of time is akin to having insurance for your reputation. Putting in the time to develop a solid plan before anything actually happens pays multiple dividends when it does.

What Property Owners Should Know about Flood Insurance

Flash floods and slow floods are both contributing causes of weather-related fatalities each year. In addition to this, flooding is the most common weather-related cause of property damage. During the famous Hurricane Sandy storm, many property owners were unprepared and saw their homes wash away, suffered injuries or lost their businesses. Experts say that Hurricane Sandy caused more than $6.5 billion in flood insurance payouts, which come from the National Flood Insurance Program. This number was less than half of the $16 billion or more that Hurricane Katrina brought in insurance payouts. There are several ways people can prepare themselves for these disasters.

Know Flood Risk Experts say that people should learn the flooding risk of the area where they live or where their businesses are located. They should also take the necessary steps to reduce those risks. One way to start is to find out the local flood zone risk by using maps. To learn more about these maps, discuss them with an agent or visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s site. They provide maps that allow site visitors to look up their properties by address. People who are concerned about privacy issues with this site can also contact their local or state government offices for information. Even if an area is not listed as a high-risk flood zone, keep in mind that floods are still possible.

Current Flood Maps FEMA is responsible for redrawing flood maps to show new data and other recommendations. Many communities receive new maps frequently as part of a continual initiative by FEMA to keep accurate and current data. An agent can advise whether or not local flood maps are current or need to be updated. For areas where updates are ongoing or have been recently completed, it is important for people in that area to adjust their insurance coverage as needed.

Base Flood Elevation After discovering a property is in a flood zone, it is important to find out what the base flood elevation is. This is the location at which a structure has a one percent chance of being flooded each year. The BFE number for a property is listed on flood maps, but it is also possible to contact an agent to look up the number. After a BFE has been determined, it is important to find the structure’s lowest floor below or above the BFE level. Buildings that are below the BFE for the area may need to be elevated to lower their chances of being flooded. Buildings should be at least three feet above the BFE level to ensure they are protected against waves or higher-than-usual flooding levels.

Flood Coverage After finding out what the risks of flooding are, it is important to buy or review insurance. People who have flood coverage should review it to ensure it is sufficient, and people who do not have insurance should obtain it immediately. This coverage is offered by the NFIP, but it can be purchased through private agents. People who have federally-backed loans for their properties should also know that their lenders often require them to buy flood insurance if they are close to or in a high-risk flood area. For those who live in high-risk flood zones, it is helpful to become familiar with changes approved for the NFIP by the government. These can differ from one year to the next, so it is best to discuss recent changes with an agent. Flood insurance rates are required by law to show the true risk of a particular area. The most recent changes mean that a significant amount of property owners will see increases in their flood coverage premiums. For answers to questions, contact ACBI.

Stay Safe by Keeping Tabs on Hurricanes through Mobile Apps

Technologies may change by leaps and bounds, but the forces of nature remain raw, powerful and – oftentimes – destructive.

While technology may never rival the power of nature, it has proven to be an invaluable tool in helping people protect themselves against the potential damage hurricanes bring. Information is the tool meteorologists and hurricane experts rely on the most – thanks to technological advances such as satellites and radars.

Today, these technologies are simply a touch away from anyone who has a smartphone or tablet – be it an iPhone, iPad, Android device or the newest Windows 8 tablet. Beyond combining several gadgets in one sleek package, these devices can now empower any user with valuable hurricane information – through a growing range of hurricane apps.

As the country faces another hurricane season, it might be wise to add “download hurricane apps” to your hurricane preparedness list.

The Choices before the Storm

What app, you ask? The choices seem to be growing steadily with emerging software developers and increasingly accessible technologies. As with most apps, the basic features of most hurricane apps are similar:

  •  Visual

A picture of a hurricane is definitely worth a thousand words. This is why almost all hurricane apps provide high-resolution images of hurricanes as well as maps tracking their projected paths through satellite and radar.

  •  Informative

Apart from providing warning information such as a hurricane’s estimated time of landfall, wind speeds and duration, many apps include checklists and planning maps, among other preparation tools. One of the top-rated apps by users and the media, Hurricanes by American Red Cross, for example, includes comprehensive details such as step-by-step to-do instructions when cell towers are down and the power is out. This app also goes a step further by including a built-in test that will enable users to find out how ready they are for the hurricane.

  •  Geographical

Do you want information that covers the whole country or prefer tracking hurricanes in a specific area? Hurricane Hound Free by STKI Concepts, for instance, covers the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific basins. It lets users choose the ocean basin they are interested in, one of three graphical themes, and their preferred wind speed units.

  •  Interactive

Many apps easily connect to Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media to let users get in touch with their family and friends, and update them of their current circumstances. WDSU Hurricane Central by HTVMA Solutions, Inc. even lets users share their hurricane photos and videos.

Other considerations that may limit your choices are the apps’ hardware and software requirements. Aside from the performance, speed and graphics quality of your device, an app, such as Hurricane Software by HurricaneSoftware.com, may also require GPS and internet connection to function optimally.

The only way to know which apps suit your needs the most is trying them out yourself. After all, it only takes several minutes to download and install each app – except for some which may also cost you about 99 cents to a few dollars.

These paid apps are often mainly ad-free versions of the free apps, or include some value-added functions. For example, SeaStorm by Poignant Projects, which can be downloaded for $1.99, packs more punch with an optional forecast model viewer add-on. It has an interactive map complete with panning, zooming and individual model point information, as well as selectable models, start time and run length.

Before you decide on keeping all apps that you have tried, ask yourself: What good will 10 great apps do you when they drain your device’s battery and memory faster than a hurricane’s maximum sustained wind?

Rate your apps based on your own criteria and choose the top two or three apps to keep – and update regularly.

Covering All Bases

Remember that preparing for a hurricane means also preparing for possible flooding, storm surge, high winds and tornadoes.

Downloading an app is one step out of many. You may also install other disaster preparedness apps to complement your hurricane app, but make sure that you cover all bases by planning several strategies for different scenarios.

For long-term protection, ensure that your family, as well as homes, businesses and other properties, are covered by adequate insurance. Most homeowners’ insurance policies, for instance, do not cover flooding. Review your existing policies – and update or upgrade if necessary.

After the Hurricane

How did your apps help you before, during and after the hurricane? Find time to leave ratings, comments and suggestions on the apps’ download page. Apart from informing potential app users of your actual experience, your feedback will also help software developers improve the apps – and possibly save lives and properties.

What The Weather Experts Are Doing To Prepare For A Worsening Hurricane Season

 Are you properly protected?  Call ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website

Weather experts predicted a very early and active hurricane season for 2013. The hurricane season lasts for six months and starts on the first day of June. Experts said the chance of having up to 20 storms during those months was about 70 percent. Of these storms, they predicted that up to 11 could become hurricanes, which means the wind gusts would be higher than 74 mph. They also predicted that as many as six of these storms could be major hurricanes. To be considered a major hurricane, a storm must have wind gusts higher than 111 mph. The seasonal average at the time of their prediction was three major hurricanes, six hurricanes and 12 storms.

After several devastating hurricanes hitting the United States during the past decade, many people become increasingly nervous when hurricane season arrives each year. Experts are committed to forecasting these storms as soon as possible to save more lives and minimize damages. It is important for concerned citizens to remember that tropical storms and hurricanes are not exclusive to the coastal areas. As these storms move inland, they bring heavy rainfall, flooding, strong winds and even tornadoes with them.

There are three climate factors affecting how hurricanes form in the Atlantic. These include the following:

– Water temperatures that are warmer than average in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

– Continual atmospheric climate patterns that are part of African monsoons.

– No expected development of El Niño to suppress the formation of hurricanes.

Experts say oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the basin of the Atlantic will create stronger hurricanes in larger numbers. These include wind patterns from Africa, warmer water in the Atlantic Ocean and weaker wind shear. Experts are working on ways to improve their storm tracking abilities.

One of the new developments introduced in early 2013 was an improved forecast model. The National Hurricane Center’s communicating procedures and data gathering techniques were also improved. Experts have plans to add a supercomputer that is capable of running upgraded research to depict the structures of storms and forecast their intensity more precisely.

Additional improvements include a Doppler radar that will provide real-time transmissions to aircraft. This will make it easier for forecasters to analyze storms that are moving or developing rapidly. It will help them improve their model forecasts by up to 15 percent. The National Weather Service also made some changes to keep warnings in effect or to be reissued for stronger storms that are changing. The flexibility allows them to provide a continuous stream of warning information to the public.

What Every Homeowner Should Know to Stay Covered During Hurricane Season

Americans are well aware of the impact major storms have on properties. When hurricane season approaches each year, people in areas where these storms hit the hardest should review their insurance policies to make sure they are covered and all of their information is current. Those who are not properly protected should buy coverage before it is too late.

Hurricane season officially starts on the first day of June and runs through the last day of November. Regardless of where a person lives in hurricane-prone areas, the flood waters and strong winds of these storms can render their properties into piles of rubble in a short amount of time. When a hurricane begins developing, many people rush out to buy insurance. However, most companies will not issue new policies after a storm has started. Policies are only issued when no storm threats are active.

Experts say that planning ahead is the only way to financially weather a hurricane. The first and most important step for people who have policies is to review their existing coverage. Every person should know what his or her policy excludes or includes. If anything is not included that a person feels should be included, it is important to contact an agent immediately. There are usually several options for riders to insurance policies. It is also important to ask an agent if any uncertainties or other concerns arise.

While some homeowners policies include deductibles for hurricane or wind losses, other insurance companies charge separately for this at the choice of the policyholder. This deductible is the amount that the policyholder must pay before the insurer will cover the remainder of the damages up to the agreed coverage amount. Hurricane and wind deductibles are usually written off as specific amounts. Alternately, the deductible might be applied toward a loss percentage of insurance coverage on a structure. For example, if the damage amounted to $6,000 and the home was insured for $200,000 with a deductible of two percent, the homeowner would pay $4,000. The insurer would pay $2,000. Deductible amounts vary based on geographic locations.

Experts remind people that the majority of damages come from flooding and not high winds. Most policies do not cover flooding. Standard policies cover water damage, but the amount of water brought on by a hurricane is considered flooding. There are federal policies available for flood insurance, so anyone who lives in an area where a hurricane or tropical storm could cause a flood should talk to an agent about obtaining this coverage. It is important to know that there is a waiting period before a flood policy takes effect, so homeowners should not delay in seeking coverage.

People living in affected areas should also do the following:
 

  • Find out if an insurance company covers replacement costs or cash value for losses.
  • Ensure that all contents of the home and their full values are covered in the event of a hurricane. Additional coverage may be necessary.
  • Make sure vehicles are covered for wind and flood damages.
  • If sewer backup coverage has not been purchased, it is important to obtain it.

Insurers everywhere encourage homeowners to keep policy copies in safe but easily accessible places. They also ask homeowners to keep their agents’ numbers in their phone contact lists and know which person and what company to contact if hurricane damages occur. This will make it easier to start a claim immediately. Homeowners should make an inventory of all of their personal property and decide on a total value. Special items such as art, firearms and valuable jewelry may need separate coverage. While it is ideal to store valuables in safe places or take them along when evacuation orders are given, this may not always be possible with all special items. To learn more about enhancing coverage, contact ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website.

New Catastrophe App Helps iPhone Users Prepare For The Worst

The Insurance Information Institute released a free mobile disaster preparedness app that provides safety tips, communication tools and checklists for common disasters. This helps people prepare for severe winter weather, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes and other types of disasters.

One of the best ways to make it through a catastrophe is to be prepared beforehand. The Know Your Plan app has several checklists containing preparedness steps and property protection steps. App users are also able to build their own customized checklists from scratch. Every list allows users to set completion dates, record progress and add personal notes to various tasks.

There are also other options. App users are able to share their lists with friends and family members. In addition to this, there are resources available for planning evacuations. This also includes evacuation of pets. The helpful app also provides up-to-the-minute data about disaster details and local evacuation routes. Know Your Plan is available from iTunes, and it can be found by searching for the Insurance Information Institute on the iPhone App Store.

During the past 10 years, insurance companies spent almost $250 billion in settling the claims of disaster victims throughout the United States. The overall cost of catastrophes is rising continuously, so insurance companies are looking for every helpful tool they can find to help speed up the repair process and prevent unnecessary injuries to humans.

The I.I.I. partnered with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety to develop property mitigation information. The IBHS is a respected organization specializing in building science research and communications. This organization tries to reduce the negative effects of disasters through research, maintenance, improved construction and encouraging preparedness.

In 2011, many communities throughout the United States experienced record-breaking catastrophes. The IBHS and the I.I.I. want to lessen the amount of future damage from such strong catastrophic occurrences. With so many people using the iPhone, the two organizations knew it would be possible to reach out to millions of people to help them take control of risks through proper preparedness. Some of the new app’s features include the following editable checklists:

– Earthquake
– Flood
– Hurricane
– Tornado
– Wildfire
– Severe Cold
– Emergency Kit
– Evacuation
– Blank Checklist

There are also note-taking features for individual tasks, and users have the option to select due dates for their checklists. A countdown feature is included for progress tracking. There is a Google Crisis Response feed allowing access to emergency information from local sources.

This app is the second in a series of apps created by the I.I.I. The first app is Know Your Stuff, and it includes home inventory information. Know Your Stuff is available for both Android and iPhone users. For more information about preparing for catastrophes, discuss your concerns with ACBI.

(Reposted from Fidelity Insurance Group)