Infamously, Henry Kissinger once said, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full. “

I thought about that when I had the fortunate “unintended consequence” of a long delayed flight on a Friday afternoon at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport.  While waiting for news on our new departure time, I found myself standing next to Markham Howe.  Markham has been a thought leader in crisis management for a long time.  As our delay extended to nearly three hours, we chatted and found much common ground.

I explained, as I do to our clients, that there are three ways that you don’t want to find out you have a problem…read it in the paper, see it on the news, or be served a subpoena.  Obviously if that’s how you find out, you have a crisis on your hands.  Markham shared that just as important as having systems to allow for reporting of concerns and case management solutions to evaluate them, is having a crisis communication planning checklist.  Better to have one today and never need it, than to be faced with a crisis and not have one.  So here are Markham’s thoughts, and thanks, Markham, for sharing!

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The most important time you can spend on crisis communications is the time prior to the actual crisis. This is the time where you identify the most likely and difficult situations that could damage your organization’s reputation and ability to function effectively. By properly planning for the worst possible scenario you can then scale down the responses to lesser issues.

Shown below is a brief checklist of key questions to determine if your organization is properly prepared for a crisis:

  • Have we identified the most likely disasters/crises that could affect our organization, including natural disasters, medical and non-medical emergencies, internal strife, terrorism, legal and leadership issues?
  • Have we identified specific audiences with whom we must communicate in the event of a specific crisis? List the audiences in priority order.
  • Is our crisis plan up to date and does it address ways to respond to inquiries from traditional and digital/social media? 
  • Is our social media policy/plan in place and up to date? 
  • What social media channels do we anticipate using and who is in charge of them?
  • How will we monitor the social media as it relates to a crisis?
  • For potential crises we can anticipate, do we have prepared statements or FAQs at the ready to help us respond to media inquiries? 
  • Have the appropriate spokespeople been identified and have they undergone media training?
  • What are the key questions that media reporters/bloggers are likely to ask in the event of a crisis? 
  • Identify the questions that should not be immediately answered, and the rationale behind withholding that information.
  • How will we track media inquiries and our responses?
  • Do we have a robust media monitoring program in place?
  • What is the news release chain of approval?
  • Which media organizations might be likely to cover our organization in the event of a crisis? Are we aware of specific bloggers or other non-traditional outlets that might cover our organization? 
  • What is the status of our relationships with media contacts during “normal” times? 
  • What is our staffing plan for the duration of the crisis?

Planning for specific scenarios will include organizational staffing, developing key messages, determining channels of communications, identifying key audiences, training spokespersons and practicing for an actual event.


Markham Howe, APR, is an independent public relations practitioner/consultant in Little Rock, Arkansas with more than 40 years experience in the public relations profession. Accreditited by the Public Relations Society of America, he is also a retired US Army colonel and a past international president of Civitan International. Although retired, he continues to conduct training sessions on both crisis communications and leadership. He may be reached at mhowe@astate.edu by email or 501-680-8291 by phone.