On the eve of the year 2000, I was working for an internet company which hosted over 1,000 websites. I was lucky enough not to draw the short straw, which would have meant spending New Year’s Eve 1999/2000 at our hosting center. Back then we were worried about Y2K glitches. These days, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are more likely culprits for causing a company-wide crisis. The following list of disaster preparation tips should ensure your public relations firm can handle a wide range of possible disasters. From computer security to employee security, keeping your PR firm up and running in the wake of disaster could be the difference between having a business and having to look for a new job once the disaster has passed.
Public Relations Responsibilities
Two company spokespeople, a primary and a back-up, should be on call to deal with the effects of a disaster.
If your business will close ahead of time — such as in the event of hurricane or blizzard — let the media help get out the word.
For public relations firms with clients in disaster areas, coordination ahead of the event is imperative. For example, if your firm had clients in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, you should have coordinated a public relations effort for the client that involved people outside of the potentially affected area handling public relations activities.
Develop a partnership with another public relations firm or an individual PR practitioner who can step in and handle your clients in the event of a disaster. Call it a “mutual defense” pact.
Priority one should be to communicate with employees affected by disasters, then to clients/customers/suppliers/partners, and finally to the media. Remember your greatest asset and deal with that first.
Write a detailed disaster preparation and recovery plan and distribute it to all employees.
Every employee should have a way to contact company officials out of the office in the case of emergency, and vice-versa.
Employees should be given access to email from home in the event of a business disruption.
Essential employees should have laptops and access to physically backed-up company files.
A list of alternative email addresses of employees should be compiled in the event of a server outage that affects company email.
If you have more than one office, set up a relocation plan for affected employees to continue work at an alternative location.
Firewalls, virus protection, and anti-spyware programs should be in place on all computers.
Servers should be secure to avoid hacking and data theft, thus choosing a web hosting company that views security as a top priority is important.
Passwords for website and email access should be changed on a regular basis to prevent data theft.
Files, including press contact lists, should be physically backed up on a regular basis and stored at a secure location.
Laptops and portable devices should be password-protected to help hinder data theft in the event these items are lost or stolen.
In the Office
Drinking water, a first aid kit, and spoil-resistant food should be kept in a secure location.
Disposable cell phone chargers should be available.
Laptop batteries should always be fully-charged.
Keep an analog phone in the office in case of an electrical outage. Many phone systems are electrically-based, and phones may not work or ring in the event of electricity loss.
Conduct fire drills and keep employees informed of your company’s evacuation procedure.
In the event of an evacuation, your evacuation procedure should include a system in place to alert clients, partners, and employees not in the office.
Get good insurance with business interruption coverage.
Most of these ideas are quite simple, and some may seem a little extreme. By the same token, one day of planning can prepare you for a disaster. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the phone lines in my home office in Brooklyn were inoperable, and my laptop had stopped working due to an electrical overload caused by a transformer blown in the attack’s wake. I had not backed-up my files, and I couldn’t even access my own website because my server access information was on my computer. It took me three days to gain access to my server, and it was another four days before I had phone service.
The economic results of the 9/11 terrorist attacks weren’t trivial. I lost advertising business on my website; I lost consulting business because I was unable to get in touch with contacts for more than three days; and I lost additional business because work nearing completion was lost due to my failed laptop. Clients had to look elsewhere for someone who could quickly finish jobs nearing their deadlines.
Had I prepared properly for a disaster — even something as simple as broken laptop — I would have averted many sleepless nights and days hiding from my landlord. A little preparation, as I learned, can go a long way towards making life in the aftermath of disaster easier.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.