How To Communicate and Prepare for a Crisis

An unexpected fire at your transfer station. A breakdown in your landfill's leachate collection system. Increasing public concern about mercury emissions from your waste-to-energy (WTE) plant.

These incidents are cause for alarm. They can happen with no warning at all — and they can severely affect a company's reputation, bottom line stock price and even its existence. However, a corporate crisis communication plan can ensure a company is prepared to respond effectively to potential emergencies to minimize damage and protect the business' reputation.

A corporate crisis is defined as any event that has an adverse impact upon a company, its employees, customers, vendors or other key audiences. Most of us think of a crisis as a dramatic event — such as an explosion or a fire — or as an unexpected occurrence that severely disrupts a company's ability to do business, such as an environmental spill, labor strike or bankruptcy filing. But an emergency also can be an acquisition, reorganization or a proposed new facility. Even the comments of senior management taken out of context in a news report can result in serious harm to the company.

In fact, facing the glare of public scrutiny during an emergency can be more damaging than the emergency itself. This societal examination requires that, in addition to handling the legal, financial and logistical aspects, a business must communicate its competence in handling such an event.

The goal is to move through the crisis as quickly as possible, minimizing damages. Your organization, i.e. haulers, landfill owners, hazardous waste management firms, etc., should use the following steps to effectively and proactively manage a crisis:


Preparedness is essential. To be prepared, minimize damage and support any needed repairs, every company must have an in-depth crisis communication plan in place that details how, when and what to communicate to key audiences. Companies often spend more time planning for their company picnics than they do for emergencies that can threaten their success or survival.


During a crisis, you must communicate. It's that simple. It's imperative to keep employees, customers, shareholders, vendors, government officials, etc., informed. Each group will have distinct and legitimate information needs. To gain trust and instill confidence, you must evaluate concerns and issues, adequately addressing each one.

In addition, it is important to cultivate relationships with your critical audiences prior to an emergency. When trouble occurs, you will want them to know who you are. To bolster your position and your credibility, use existing allies as third-party supporters to reinforce your messages.

Set responsibilities

During an emergency is not the time to determine who should do what. A carefully prepared communication plan will outline roles and responsibilities prior to a crisis.


Conduct a practice drill once a year to ensure an optimal response time. Make sure that your crisis team members know exactly what to do, and how and when to act.

Act responsibly

Affected parties will need assurance that the company is serious in its response to their needs. Therefore, be visible and do not abandon the scene, which could be perceived as uncaring. Leaving may give opponents a distinct advantage. Additionally, a strategic decision about whether and when to expose your CEO should be made.

Do not second-guess

Humans generally do not make sound decisions under stress. Adhere to your crisis communication plan to establish a decision-making process. You will not have time to question decisions and tactics.

Prepare your spokesman

Your company should have at least one person who has been media-trained by professionals and taught how to handle emergencies. This individual should act as the single conduit of information, particularly with respect to the media.

Repair your corporate reputation

If the company's reputation was harmed as a result of the crisis, take immediate steps to minimize and repair the damage.

Communication is more complex and rapid than ever before, particularly with the advent of the Internet. Information transmitted quickly can make a corporate crisis more dangerous and harmful. Therefore, communication plays a critical role in successfully managing an emergency. To survive, a company must respond capably and swiftly to communicate a response.

Crisis communication has become a necessary and vital component of corporate strategic planning. Any company that is unprepared to handle an emergency is taking a risk with customers, government regulators, employees, shareholders and other key stakeholders important to the business' future success. You must communicate competence and strength.

For more information about communicating during a crisis, call (617) 536-3003 or e-mail [email protected]