How to Field the Ultimate Crisis Response Team

A crisis is something you hope to never be confronted with as a professional. Yet, you must be prepared for it, which starts with assembling a crisis team with well-defined roles that can handle a wide range of scenarios through proper preparation. Seated at the table should be anyone who could or would respond directly to a challenge that may arise and affect your external publics.

Elizabeth Castro, senior VP of O’Malley Hansen Communications, says it’s critically important to establish an issues management process that puts control back in the hands of an organization. “Engage your entire organization so that the important preliminary work is done before a crisis strikes,” says Castro. “This includes tracking issues before they become crises and identifying key decision makers within your organization who can act swiftly if and when a crisis occurs.”

Establishing your process and building the ultimate crisis response team should be done along two fronts, so you’re well positioned to act swiftly. The two team structures you'll need are:

1.     A lead team whose primary function is to monitor and track issues—or flag them for the entire organization—so you’re never caught off guard. “This group acts as the central location where others in your organization can report issues that have the potential to escalate,” says Castro. This team can help identify who else in your organization needs to be informed of a potential issue and should be part of actively managing it should it transition to a crisis. 

2.     A secondary team that actively manages an issue if and when it escalates. “This team includes representatives from the affected business units and other decision makers and impacted functions such as marketing and communications, business development, supply chain, investor relations, customer service, legal and human resources,” says Castro. This team will:

  • Audit – The team determines the company’s position on the issue and assesses the threat to the business and reputation as well as gathers all available background information. They also develop messages and materials needed such as press releases and formal statements.
  • Review – The team holds a weekly/daily check in to review the status of the issue or crisis where the team can track ongoing media coverage, determine immediate next steps, anticipate other events and assign roles for ongoing management.
  • Manage – The team develops a communications strategy to respond to high risk/high awareness issues, trains spokespersons, revises messages, identifies key audiences and channels of outreach and established a real-time response structure.

With one team team monitoring organizational weaknesses and another handling any full-blown crisis scenario, there is of course the need for reliable lines of communication between the two teams.