All one needs to do is look at the weather over the past year to know how significantly it can impact a business. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, snow storms, tornadoes, fires and mudslides have been mainstays in the headlines for months and have wreaked havoc on businesses from coast to coast. These severe weather scenarios can lead to closed offices, employees who cannot get to work and client matters that might be significantly delayed.
With the crazy weather that seems to be the norm today, it is now critical to include severe weather events in PR crisis communications plans for your law firm and prepare contingency planning for different scenarios. Smart law firms and their PR teams know that predicting all possibilities is an essential aspect of crisis management, and it is more important than ever to ensure that law firms make the necessary preparations to be ready when trouble strikes.
Law firms need to consider a range of weather scenarios that could affect their operations, as well as their employees. And as with other types of crises, preparation for severe weather requires creating a PR crisis plan that covers protocols for communicating with the media, public and internal audiences is critical.
What Needs to Be Done?
Being prepared is your best protection. As with most business, a law firm’s natural disaster plan should include contingency plans for loss of power, temporary closure of your business, working remotely and, of course, interrupted Internet service.
All crisis plans should include backup communication methods. You’ll want to keep an up to date list of cell phone and home phone numbers for the crisis team. You’ll also want to include alternative email addresses of the key players in the event the office email server goes down. Your plan should also include provisions for sending key team members to remote locations outside the potential disaster zone, if possible.
Law firms need to think about their staff, as many people have trouble getting to work during storms and other types of severe weather. The health and safety, of your team should be your top priority and attended to before anything else. Make sure your team members manage their personal and safety needs during and after a disaster, especially when it could be dangerous to require them to come in the office or leave during a significant event. There should be an established protocol on when the office is officially closed.
In order to continue to operate efficiently in times of crisis, creating a plan for unforeseen weather event is crucial.
While it may seem obvious that law firms, or any business, would need a plan for a weather related crisis, most companies simply do not have written procedures to deal with these kinds of scenarios. It is important that law firms have these kinds of plans in place and that they are updated regularly.
Creating a Weather-Related Crisis Plan
Management should be aware of the actions required to recover from any disaster. This could include calling all employees to inform them of what is happening, setting up remote access to appropriate cybersecurity and arranging the functionality for calls to be re-routed from the office to other locations.
• Keep well-developed contact lists for employees, key clients, and utilities and support services.
• Detail the chain of command, because the timing of weather events is unpredictable and the availability of all leadership may not be possible. Viable alternatives are needed for who can step into the breach and which employees have strong knowledge to aid the continuity of the business.
• Provide a contact point for employees.
• Establish a no-fault plan for communication when a crisis hits. Perhaps the strategic placement of satellite phones, websites for posting messages and social media channels where individuals can relay messages.
How Will You Recover Lost Data?
• Your data is critical. It should be backed up to an off-site location so you can quickly restore your systems and get your business back to normal.
• Designate a disaster recovery response team made up of key employees who are experienced and able to repair IT services. Team members should have clearly-defined roles and responsibilities.
• The firm’s IT Director or CIO should be the lead on your data recovery team and the development of your DR plan.
Best Practices for Law Firm PR Teams
• Maintain a list that includes the contact information for essential utility and support services such as electrical power, water, sewer, gas, emergency, telecommunications, and transportation.
• Maintain contact information for key clients, employees and, vendors.
• Media outlet contact information should be close at hand. The news media can be helpful in publicizing recovery efforts, business operational status, and in some cases, contacting your employees.
• Create a detailed risk-assessment of crises that could have a PR impact, then create detailed PR plans to address the top potential crises.
• Map out a succession of responsibility by critical emergency and decision-making functions with contact information. Regional crisis events have demonstrated that during a crisis a company cannot count on the availability of current leadership. Viable alternatives for critical functions are essential.
• Establish a robust communication capability that enables the company to broadcast and receive the latest news and information to interested parties and individuals. Redundancy is the key.
• Ensure some communication capability that includes: Satellite phones strategically placed within the organization, a website with designated areas for posting messages. Established text messaging, social media communication channels and mass email capabilities where individuals can relay messages and a centralized number to call outside the affected and a website for instructions and updates
• Update the contact list every quarter months or when organizational changes have been made
We all know that anything can happen at any time. Planning can save you from the worst possible scenarios and help preserve brand reputation. So, anticipate and then plan.
If you deal with many employees, plan for potential lawsuit. If you deal with confidential information, plan for a trade secret litigation. If you have a high-profile managing partner, plan for a reputation-shattering scandal.
You’re getting the picture, right?
Elizabeth Lampert is President at Elizabeth Lampert PR, an International media and crisis communications agency. She can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lara Cupit is a trend spotting media strategist and can be reached at Laracupit@gmail.com.