PR Insight: Why Your Credit Union Should Run Regular Crisis Drills in 2019

public emergency loudspeaker tower
By Mary York

3 minutes

Emerging threats and a changing media landscape mean preparing for emergency response is more important than ever.

At any given moment, a crisis can occur, often without warning and leaving long-lasting effects that can impact an organization’s reputation. From handling data breaches and growing cybercrime to scandals proliferated through social media, crisis communication planning is critical for your credit union and an integral part of the overall public relations function. 

But having a plan is only half the battle.

Practice, Practice, Practice 

Typically, a crisis will only last a few days, but those few days can permanently damage your credit union’s reputation, making it crucial that you not only have a plan in place at all times, but that you practice that plan through regular drills and simulations. 

Consider the emergency fire drills we all practiced during our grade school years. Most of us probably never experienced a real school fire, but we were certainly prepared. The same principles should be applied to any organizational crisis—have a plan, and then practice, practice, practice. 

Not only do drills help organizations effectively respond to emergencies, but ongoing practice helps keep staff calm in the face of real crises. That was part of the point of school fire drills—to have a structured plan in place (lining up and calmly evacuating to a designated area outside) to keep students and faculty from panicking and avoid chaos. 

What should a drill look like?

The first step to creating practice drills is to have a crisis plan in place. While we can never predict every scenario, credit unions should develop a response plan that clearly outlines the steps that should be taken, starting with identifying and understanding the full scope of the crisis, having a pre-determined incident team in place to develop the next response steps and confirming a spokesperson.

From there, credit unions should consider possible crisis scenarios: What are the most likely emergencies we will face? What have other financial institutions faced? What crises are we seeing in the news that have made detrimental impacts on other organizations? 

By answering these questions, you can create a list of likely scenarios ranging from data breaches to member disputes, natural disasters that impact business and member service, etc. 

After a crisis plan is in place and scenarios are identified, your credit union should then schedule drills—but the timing of these drills should not be announced. Because a crisis strikes without notice, so should your drills. But do be mindful of major events. In other words, if you’re in the middle of a core conversion, holding a crisis drill may cause more damage than good. 

Start Small

It is also important to start small. Practice “easier” crises first, like responding to a negative social media post. Save the major practice drills—such as data breaches or cyberattacks—for later, to give your team time to practice and master the steps. 

These drills should be practiced at least once a year. However, given the increasing number of PR crises we’ve seen in recent years and the swiftness in how they escalate due to social media and citizen journalists—take the recent Nike uproar, for example—some organizations are opting for quarterly drills. Because of the potential severity and long-lasting impact of such crises, some regulators are actively encouraging companies to conduct regular and frequent drills (often referred to as tabletops). The U.S. Treasury has even created a tabletop exercise template for small and mid-size financial institutions that wish to conduct their own internal drills related specifically to cyberattacks.

Credit unions should also routinely conduct media training sessions at least once a year to practice and revise (if needed) key messaging. Your credit union’s mission statement and value proposition is the starting point for any crisis response. 

Last, make these practice exercises fun and engaging. While a crisis is never a pleasant experience, crisis drills can be a great way to build stronger relationships within teams and across departments. This will be helpful when a real crisis occurs. It also provides credit unions an opportunity to test out responses to different scenarios as well as build unique skill sets among staff. And remember, crises are stressful. Consider rewarding teams after a drill is conducted. 

Crises are inevitable; therefore, crisis preparedness and practice are both critical. By having a solid plan in place, mapping out potential crisis scenarios and conducting regular crisis drills, your credit union will be better prepared to handle organizational emergencies. cues icon

Mary York is vice president at William Mills Agency, the nation's largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or its blog.

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