Even the best companies face crises. Businesses can suffer catastrophic loss from a variety of sources, leaving the company paralyzed or distressed, and the resulting damage can hobble or even ruin an organization.

The range of possible sources of problems is staggering. They include natural disasters, such as hurricanes, flash floods, tornados, wildfires, earthquakes, or snow storms. Other threats come from product contamination – whether malicious or accidental – personal information data breaches, electronic system hacking or denial of service attacks. Criminal activities, such as fraud, espionage, sabotage, workplace violence/active shooter incidents, kidnapping of employees, theft of company trade secrets, or embezzlement are also far too common in today’s environment. Negligence by an employee or vendor, whether purposeful or accidental, is also prevalent.

The above list is in no way all-inclusive, but it is a sobering reminder of the types of dangers every business can face. They also illustrate the issues every business must anticipate and plan to tackle to avoid disaster.

The first obligation of any business, no matter what size, is to ensure the safety of its employees. However, the second obligation of a business is to continue operations, to meet its commitments to customers and to provide funding to allow continued support of the company’s employees and vendors during the crisis.

Crisis can undermine both those obligations. However, companies can create comprehensive crisis management and business continuity plans to prepare appropriately to face these dangers when they occur.

The way to do this is through prior planning.

All departments of the business must participate in the planning process by identifying essential methods for production, administration, finance, and delivery. The first step is to designate a Crisis Management Response Team, composed of a representative of each vital function. This team leads any crisis response and is intimately familiar with each part of a crisis plan.

Business Continuity must be inextricably interwoven into the plan. Merely dealing with the consequences of a crisis without making every effort to continue to operate the business through the turbulence is a critical error.

A holistic crisis management plan coupled with a comprehensive business continuity plan will allow a company to deal with most any crisis, while still meeting the needs of their employees, vendors, and customers.

The process for building a crisis management and business continuity plan is straightforward, requiring only the commitment of senior management and an organized effort by an ad hoc team. Including all departments of the company, e.g., production, human resources, finance/payroll, shipping and receiving, facilities, executive, customer relations, marketing and any other areas ensures that the plan covers all areas of the company and addresses all critical needs.

As part of the plan, the crisis management team will determine a “command structure” for the management of the decision processes before and after the activation of the team. The team will also develop the specific elements of the plan.

Each member of the crisis management response team should be familiar with the entire plan. Team members also brief their department on its distinct duties and responsibilities if/when the plan is activated.

Finally, the actual crisis management and business continuity plan should remain a living document, with quarterly reviews and updates to ensure the plan is relevant and up to date. As part of the process, the crisis management response team should engage in periodic drills to ensure comfort and familiarity with the plan.

W.T. Hill is Executive Vice President, Special Projects, with CTC International Group, Inc. He has over 35 years of experience in the Consulting and Investigations industries. His experience includes serving a President of W. T. Hill Partners, LLC, a security consulting and investigations firm; President of the Consulting and Investigations Division, G4S Security Services, and member of the Board of Directors; Senior Vice President, U.S. Operations, with Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations; as well as other high level investigative and security positions.