A major fuel spill. A big earthquake. A deadly shooting. All these crises are examples of situations where any one company, organization, or even government will likely struggle to respond effectively. Some catastrophes are just too big with too many moving parts to handle solo. This is especially true in collecting and sharing information with the public about headline-grabbing incidents.
Think about your worst-case scenario. Are you ready?
Imagine your company’s worst disaster, then picture trying not only to respond to the crisis itself (like an active shooting), but also to write and distribute press releases (do you have an updated media list?), keep elected officials informed (do you have their phone numbers and email addresses handy?), organize a press conference (who is qualified to speak to reporters?), and take phone calls from concerned family members and/or the public. These realities come into stark focus during an actual emergency response. How you respond can literally make or break your company’s or organization’s future.
Hurricane Katrina exposed the need for improvement
After the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, the federal government realized the country needed a unified system for responding to major disasters. The result is the National Incident Management System, or NIMS. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) guides all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from incidents.
The NIMS gets everyone on the same page
What does NIMS provide? The simplified system gives stakeholders across the community access to a shared vocabulary, and systems and processes to successfully deliver the capabilities described in the National Preparedness System. NIMS defines operational systems that guide how personnel work together during incidents.
The benefit? Everyone involved in the emergency response uses the same language, works from the same plans, and understands their respective roles, which are clearly spelled out. A reporting and decision-making hierarchy is established. Under this model, everyone has a job and knows what is expected of him/her.
Build out your team before a crisis strikes
While the NIMS greatly simplified emergency response, it remains complicated enough to require training and hands-on practice to become proficient in it. Free trainings are provided by the federal government, including those that focus on communicating with stakeholders using the public information function. At Blueprint Alaska, our staff is trained in the NIMS model and spends several days with multiple clients every year participating in drills for a variety of disasters, sometimes with hundreds of other people. Our work is focused on communicating with stakeholders, including media, community leaders, and members of the public. These drills are challenging and very stressful, but always lead to greater understanding of what will be required in a real crisis.
If your company or organization faces even the possibility, let alone likelihood, of ever responding to a major crisis, it is wise to invest the time to train and drill the NIMS. Of course, you can also augment your internal team’s capabilities by bringing in experienced outside help.