As an opener to several of the crisis communication themed sessions I deliver I will start by asking participants to list the 5 major incidents that would constitute a crisis for their organisation. The results are interesting because whatever the sector or size of the organisation pretty much the focus falls upon the same five incidents.

Death or serious injury to staff or customers or possibly consumers of a product or users of a service is always going to be a major incident. A recent example would be Pret a Manger, and wherever people are harmed organisations recognise that as a major incident.

With an increased dependency on technology within our business operations any IT related incident is likely to have a major negative impact.  This would include the loss of the IT system or significant parts of it, a data breach including deliberate hacking or ransomware based demand by an organisation such as Wannacry in the recent attacks on NHS IT systems.

Often the most visible of the five incidents is something estates related. This might be a fire, a flood or structural damage to a key building such as a head office or manufacturing site. These types of crisis always provide exciting images that help to raise the profile of the incident.

The discovery of criminal activity is always big and bad news.  Things such as fraud will make the news but also inquests or a court cases against the organisation or individuals within it fall into this category.

The final incident would be a quality related issue including product recall or intervention by a regulatory body suspending a licence to operate. This type of incident clearly highlights the threat that a crisis represents to an organisations ability to operate as well as its public reputation.  

How does the commonality of these types of incident across sector boundaries help? If your organisation is to respond effectively to a crisis it is vital that it has a plan in place. These 5 incidents provide a start point for developing that plan. Recognising what kinds of crises you might have to deal with allows you to consider the people, the places and the processes you will need for each type of incident.

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