When it comes to dealing with a crisis, we all like to think, “It will never happen to me.” We can just be living our lives, and then a tornado hits. A fire breaks out. An employee gets trapped in a grain bin—and the path of our lives will never be the same. A crisis can happen in an instant, and it requires quick thinking, a cool, collected head and special communications and public relations efforts.

I like to classify crisis communications and PR into two buckets:

  • True crisis—Where there has been a loss of property, income or—heaven forbid—life or personal injury. These are the most serious crisis scenarios—the stuff you see on TV.
  • Urgent crisis—Communications that need to be carried out quickly in response to an outside influence, whether political, cultural, etc. These crises you might be able to see coming, to a certain extent.

When handling both types of crisis communications, rule No. 1 is always the same: don’t panic! I know, that is much easier said than done. Many of us have never experienced an actual disaster, so we don’t know how we would respond. But, I can tell you that nothing will be changed or improved by losing your cool or letting your emotions get the best of you. There is a time and place for dealing with the raw emotions that disasters inevitably bring out. It’s O.K. to take a moment (or even several minutes) for that; but then it’s very important to compose yourself and focus on tackling what needs to get done.

Rule No. 2 when handling crisis communications is execute the plan. Your company should already have a crisis communications plan; if you don’t, I strongly urge you to get one as soon as possible. The plan will outline how your staff should be organized to handle logistics, what key elements you need to remember and direction on connecting with the media and other stakeholders during the crisis. Most importantly, following the plan will get your business, employees and customers back to business as usual as soon as possible—and your income flow established.

Crisis communications and PR is common sense, but it’s often overlooked. Don’t let your business get caught off guard; get a crisis communications plan so you can be reassured that your business could handle a crisis, should one ever come your way.