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Proactive Crisis Management: Essential Strategies for Lab Preparedness

Crises are inevitable. What must you do to prepare for them?

by
Jonathan Klane, M.S.Ed., CIH, CSP, CHMM, CIT

Jonathan Klane, M.S.Ed., CIH, CSP, CHMM, CIT, is senior safety editor for Lab Manager. His EHS and risk career spans more than three decades in various roles as a...

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“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Or, put more scientifically, “A gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.”

“Planning” for a crisis might sound like you want one. But in reality, planning is all about preventing and preparing for crises. Crises will occur, and like insurance, you want it but hope you don’t need it. Here are four questions to guide your crisis prep efforts:

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What systems will you need?

Crises are the worst “what if” scenarios manifested, so ask those “what if?” questions and prepare accordingly. In a similar vein, use pre-mortems to imagine that a crisis has occurred, then work backward to determine what led to it. These prep systems will go a long way to improving your crisis response.

How should you test your systems beforehand?

Another important element in crisis prep is communication. Determine who does what, or your people will argue about roles and responsibilities. Similarly, decide who will be in charge and determine the line of succession. Also, have backups—people will be out that day.

Identify who’s in authority to speak to others as well. It’s hard to keep quiet when a reporter puts you on camera.

Gather around one table and do tabletop exercises. Imagine that you and your team are playing a board game in which a crisis occurs. The game, or tabletop exercise, is intended to have the team successfully manage the crisis.

Next, try mock crises. Do planned and surprise ones—not every crisis comes with a warning. Move onto drills (big and small) and practice. Always debrief afterward; it’ll help when the next crisis strikes by helping your team improve their response or process.

How will you communicate?

Emergency systems are key. Will people check them during an actual event? Social media provides options but not all folks are always on all apps. Create redundancies and options to reach as many as possible. Emails may or may not reach people due to limited connectivity. Plan on some methods failing (like cell coverage).

Posting via a topmost banner on the organization’s front page can work well for groups. At the same time, walkie-talkie radios with earpieces can help the team(s). Even in-person or line of sight with gestures or dry-erase boards can work in specific situations.

How will the team make decisions?

Calm, collaborative decision-making is the most effective. It’s best to use the incident command system and an incident on-scene commander (IOSC). Everyone should know who’s in charge and be kept in the loop as the IOSC changes.

Key points

Crises will occur regardless. It’s vital to plan and prepare for the various types. Developing a collaborative crisis preparation plan and testing it out beforehand may just save your people and their work. Don’t find out the hard way.

Dos:

  • Plan, prepare, and prevent what you can
  • Expect crises will occur
  • Focus on communication
  • Create systems with redundancies
  • Practice with drills (tabletop and live)
  • Cooperate with authorities
  • Debriefs

Don’ts:

  • Yell and scream
  • Be impatient
  • Make rash judgments or decisions
  • Go around the incident command system
  • Blame or finger-point