Are You Prepared for a Crisis?
Devastating hurricanes in recent months have caused more associations to consider how ready they are for an emergency. While responding to a crisis is primarily a staff function, board members, as stewards of the association, need to know if the organization is prepared. Here are some questions they should be asking.

Do we have a crisis management plan? The association should consider having a crisis management plan that lays out what to do in an emergency. If one isn’t in place, a first step in creating one is for the board to direct staff, or appoint a committee, to draft one. Board members should understand the plan, but more importantly, they should know if management is fully versed in it. Do the key team members know their roles and responsibilities and how to act quickly to implement the plan? Also, the plan should include a review of all insurance policies to make sure the organization is adequately covered.

What’s the chain of command? It’s necessary to have a chain of command for any crisis. If something happens at a meeting, for example, the meeting planner might be authorized to handle it and inform the executive director, who then informs the chairman of the board, who informs the full board. In other cases, the person on the ground might be directed to follow the established chain of command before acting. Either way, it’s crucial to establish that procedure.

Further, all phone numbers, email addresses, cell numbers, and contact information of key staff and board members should be updated regularly and be easily accessible. In an emergency, seconds count, so staff and board members need to know how to reach one another quickly. The board or executive committee may even need to make a spot decision on something such as cancelling or postponing a meeting.

Who is the spokesperson for the association? The board needs to appoint someone to speak on behalf of the organization if a public statement is required. For some associations, the executive director handles all media, while for others, the chief elected officer is the spokesperson. No matter who it is, the key is to have the association speak with one voice. If no one is designated, the association might inadvertently send out mixed messages if multiple people are contacted to comment. Importantly, this also includes social media. Make sure the staff and membership knows that all communication, including social media, goes through the official spokesperson. The association may also post communications or statements on the website. Either way, keep in mind that any statement should be honest, concise, and focused on solutions, not blame.

Once the crisis has ended, the board should conduct a review, with management, of what happened and how the organization responded. Did we respond effectively? What could we improve upon? How could we avoid the same problems in the future? Then, the crisis management plan should be reviewed, and updated, as necessary. Disaster can strike at any time. It is the responsibility of the board to make sure that all the necessary plans and protocols are in place to mitigate the damage.
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