We don’t like to think about accidents happening on our farms, even though we work in one of the most dangerous industries around. Thinking about what can happen is important, though, since farm owners can take steps to avoid some accidents and crisis events and ensure their crews are prepared when the unexpected does happen. Are you and your workers ready for field fires, tornadoes, accidents, creek spills and other unfortunate events?
A written and communicated crisis management plan can help you be prepared. A crisis management plan should provide for the following:
- Naming and training a crisis management team
- Evaluating for hazards and mitigating dangers to avoid crisis events
- Training workers to respond appropriately in a crisis
- Planning for the media and other PR aspects of a crisis event
- Planning for business continuity
- After-incident follow-up evaluation
Naming and Training a Crisis Management Team
First, you as owner should select members and name a coordinator to lead your crisis management (CM) team. This team will be responsible for overseeing the five areas described below. Your CM team should include a coordinator, a specified media spokesperson, an internal spokesperson (usually the head of HR), several CM team members, and others according to your farm’s situation and needs. This team should be trained by a qualified trainer, and annual refresher training is also advised.
Evaluating for and Mitigating Hazards
Your CM team should spend some time looking for and listing potential hazards in the workplace and compiling suggestions for mitigating dangers. The help of an outside consultant or other resources may be needed to complete a thorough list. Don’t skimp on this step; anticipating and, when possible, avoiding a crisis event is much easier and less costly than dealing with its aftermath as the situation unfolds.
Training Workers to Respond Appropriately
Whether you arrange training in house or through professional trainers, be sure your workers know exactly what to do in an emergency. Everyone should know the first person to inform of a crisis and how to contact them. Post your plan or list of emergency situations and contact information on site, and make sure they are also on each worker’s cell phone. Map out your process for informing those who need to know what is happening, both during and after the event. Once workers know the processes to follow, practice. Schedule mock drills and role-playing activities to ensure everyone is ready to respond quickly and appropriately.
Planning for the Media and Other Public Relations Aspects
Have one designated media spokesperson who is prepared to respond to the media in the event of a crisis. This may be the owner, but remember that the owner may be tied up with handling the crisis. Choose someone who can speak calmly and confidently, even if just to say that the incident is being appraised and there is no further information available at that time. Be sure your other workers all know that they are to refer any media questions to the spokesperson. Depending on the nature of the event, you may need to employ a professional PR firm to help you with follow up. For this reason, it’s wise to have done your homework in advance and have the names of two or three PR firms or consultants that you’ve chosen before any crisis event occurs.
Once the immediate crisis has passed, your attention will turn to resuming normal business operations. You want to ensure your business can continue with as little interruption as necessary during and after a crisis event. Plan ahead for disaster recovery, business processes, people, and partners. Ensure you will have access to data, files, an alternative work location, and backup providers. This will require some careful planning and preparation and also maybe even some professional help with the technology, but remember that every hour that you’re unable to carry on your work as usual will cost you dearly.
After-Incident Follow-Up Evaluation
This step is often overlooked, but follow-up review and revisions of processes is invaluable. Soon after the incident, while details are still fresh, the CM team should evaluate in detail what happened, the response of each worker, and how the process could be improved. Is more training needed? Was necessary equipment available? Were vital persons informed at the correct time? Talk with your workers to get their input on how your CM plan and its implementation can be improved.
Family Farms, LLC provides vital business support to family farms like yours. We can help with crisis management in addition to many other aspects of farm business management. Learn more about who we are and how we help our members.