A crisis can destroy a business’s reputation and bottom line. A crisis can come from anywhere: a surprise EPA, OSHA, or other regulatory inspection, a natural disaster, or a man-made catastrophe like the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion last year. Though a business owner can never anticipate every crisis, there are certainly steps you can take to minimize the damage to your company.
- Anticipate the Crisis. It is human nature to believe “it won’t happen to me.” But that is a poor excuse for being unprepared when it does. If you run a livestock farm, anticipate a widespread disease, an employee that fails to follow animal care standards, or an environmental manure spill. If you are crop farmer, anticipate a chemical spill, a machinery injury, or explosion. If you are a business that employees a lot of people, anticipate an OSHA inspection. If you store a lot of hazardous or explosive chemicals, anticipate an environmental emergency. Consider internal and external threats. You cannot predict every risk, but you can determine your most likely risks.
- Develop a Crisis Management Plan. This plan should touch every individual at your business, from the owner to the newest employee. Every employee should know their role and what steps to take. A crisis plan will reduce internal panic and tension within the company. The plan will establish who takes the lead when the crisis occurs. And it will send a message to outsiders that you were prepared, organized, and ready for what happened. That will go a long ways in days following the crisis.
- Understand that the Crisis Isn’t Over When the Crisis Ends. A crisis is often followed by the blame game. Inspectors, regulators, and investigators will appear. Lawsuits may follow. During the crisis, your company should establish who the point person and communications manager is for media, regulatory, and legal requests for information. This should be done both internally, so employees know who to contact, and externally, so that media and outsiders know who to contact. “No comment” is not an effective way to manage information requests. Have your attorney on speed dial, but call him or her at the beginning of the crisis (if not before to help develop the crisis plan).
- Practice. No crisis plan is effective unless practiced so that employees are confident when that moment occurs that they know what to do. There is a reason ER doctors and nurses are calm in the face of emergencies—they have faced similar problems many times. They simply go to work.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who planned for invasion of occupied Europe in World War II, once wrote: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” There is no way to eliminate every threat or anticipate every crisis. But being prepared is the first step in minimizing the damage.
Todd Janzen grew up on a Kansas farm and now practices law with Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP, which has offices in Indianapolis and South Bend. He also serves as General Counsel to the Indiana Dairy Producers and writes regularly about agricultural law topics on his blog: JanzenAgLaw.com. This article is provided for informational purposes only. Readers should consult legal counsel for advice applicable to specific circumstances. Todd is currently serving as chair of the American Bar Association’s (ABA’s) Agricultural Management Committee, which is part of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources.
Submitted by: Todd J. Janzen, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP