The COVID-19 pandemic has given businesses around the world a crash course in crisis management, and if there is any silver lining, it’s that we can use what we’ve collectively learned to develop future crisis response plans.
Here are four key lessons that pandemics can teach us about critical event management.
1. Agile Planning Is Indispensable
It may be impossible to predict the exact nature of the next major crisis, but companies that have a crisis plan in place are a step ahead of those that don’t. Even the knowledge that there is a plan in place will give your team peace of mind and help them anticipate the kinds of decision-making challenges that might arise.
A tested crisis response plan pairs well with agile leadership, who can skillfully adjust the plan for the current situation and quickly implement solutions. Depending on your organization, you may even consider employing a “network of teams,” as McKinsey recommends, so your employees can rapidly implement solutions without waiting for their ideas to be approved by higher-ups.
2. Cost-Cutting Must Be Strategic
Although global supply chains and just-in-time inventories can save money in the short term, they could expose your business to increased risk in the case of a pandemic. COVID-19 has illustrated the importance of having a surplus of inventory and diversifying your supply chains.
For example, according to a report by Deloitte, more than 200 of the Fortune Global 500 firms have a presence directly in Wuhan. If an organization was exclusively sourcing from Wuhan when the city shut down, their business would have ground to a halt. And now that parts of the United States and several other countries have become hot spots, it’s clear that more diversity is better when it comes to supply chains.
And if you’re planning to trim your budget, there are some areas where you should avoid cutting costs—and you may want to increase investments in such areas as IT and cloud technology that will allow your employees to work from anywhere. For example, if your entire team is suddenly working from home, remote connectivity networks will experience heavier traffic than usual and could exceed capacity unless you’ve upgraded your systems in preparation.
3. Communication Is Key
When crisis hits, it is essential that leaders can communicate with their entire team, no matter where they are around the globe. An up-to-date and tested mass communication system can help keep everyone informed, track sick employees, and make sure everyone is safe. Your emergency mass communication software should allow for both two-way internal communication—so your team can stay informed, check in, and ask questions—and one-way external communication, so you can reach people in all different channels.
Thoughtful and transparent messaging is a necessity when communicating during a crisis. Leaders should be consistently communicating with employees and all stakeholders, and they should be clear about what they know, what they don’t know, and what they’re doing to support employees and the company as a whole.
4. Complacency Is a Huge Risk
Complacency is always dangerous for an organization. For one, complacency in the form of normalcy bias can cause leaders to underestimate a budding crisis and the impacts it will have on their business. Many organizations didn’t see the full scale of COVID-19 until they were engulfed in it.
Complacency is also risky after a crisis has subsided. Even when you think you’re in the clear, it is wise to consistently evaluate your crisis response plan and be on the lookout for other impending threats. If you become complacent or minimize potential dangers, you could expose your business to unnecessary risk when the next crisis hits.
A Real-Life Example of Proactive Critical Event Management
Following the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 and a spike in similar events across the country, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) decided to implement a mass notification system so it could better manage any type of crisis. The university needed a way to rapidly notify thousands of faculty, staff, and students the moment a critical event occurred. In the early 2000s, the most effective ways to do that were through phone trees and email blasts, which were slow and required people to be near their phone or email at the right time. As new technologies were developed, emergency notification software became capable of reaching a campus of 50,000 within minutes.
In July 2007, Penn worked with OnSolve and adopted the MIR3 rapid two-way notification and response platform, which was fast, secure, and easy to use. By the fall semester, Penn launched the “UPennAlert Emergency Notification System,” which has since undergone regular testing, including an annual campus-wide drill. During its October 2015 campus-wide test, the system set a notification speed record when 86,000 SMS and email messages were sent to more than 50,000 people in just 5.5 minutes.
Software that rapidly and reliably delivers mass notifications is crucial for any type of crisis, whether it’s a mass shooting or a pandemic. During a pandemic, the MIR3 platform allows administrators to get critical health and safety information to all stakeholders in record time. It also enables two-way communication, so that students, faculty, and staff can notify the university if they need assistance.
On-call initiators can securely log on from anywhere with an internet connection and send critical notifications immediately. Those messages can be easily customized for each recipient group (e.g., faculty, staff, students), and recipients can manage their own contact information through the DataSync self-registration application. And if you need to connect with other administrators to form an action plan in the midst of a crisis, OnSolve enables instant conference calls.
Critical event management is a key component to ensuring business continuity during a crisis. Organizations must be strategic in developing their plans and adaptable as circumstances change. Communication with internal and external stakeholders is important to ensure everyone is in alignment. Keeping these four keys in mind as you develop a thorough critical management plan will set your organization up for success.