Managing Crisis Starts With Being Prepared

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Alberta Pork learned some valuable lessons about dealing with a crisis during last year’s outbreak of H1N1 or “swine” flu, says Paul Hodgman, the agency’s executive director.

The outbreak led to public concerns that the flu could be transmitted from hog farms or pork. Alberta concerns increased when the first apparent human-animal transmission case was identified from a construction worker at a barn near Rocky Mountain House, though later tests showed the worker didn’t have the disease.

Hodgman shared some key lessons at the Livestock Care Conference, March 26 in Red Deer.

Have a crisis management plan. The key is to do what you can ahead of time by having a crisis-management plan in place, he says. This may seem like a no-brainer in 20/20 hindsight following a real crisis, but the reality is not enough organizations or industries make this a priority.

There’s nothing like a real crisis to show just how important a crisis management plan is – but waiting for one is not an approach Hodgman recommends.

“You can’t prepare for all the specifics, but this gives you a framework that can be a huge advantage. When crisis hits, you apply this framework and combine it with your leadership and management principles to get through.”

For producer organizations such as Alberta Pork, Hodgman advises a crisis-management plan needs to be agreed upon by both the board and management. “Board members add valuable input but cannot manage a crisis. Crisis management requires full-time attention.”

“Be bold” on behalf of your members and industry. There are a number of leadership and management principles that have proven effective in dealing with crisis, including several that were critical to Alberta Pork’s own approach in the face of H1N1. All shared a common thread – “be bold,” says Hodgman. “A crisis is not the time to be passive. Act quickly, take charge and lead – no one else is going to do it for you.”

Rely heavily on being proactive in communications. “Alberta Pork’s communications efforts were key in minimizing long-term damage to our industry’s reputation,” says Hodgman. “We reduced fears about public health, reassured stakeholders about food safety and helped restore the image of our pork industry.”

Champion progress to apply new lessons learned. In the months since the crisis, one thing that has stood out for Hodgman and colleagues at Alberta Pork is the need for joint approaches.

“There is a real requirement for integrated communications, strategy development and implementation between industry, federal and provincial regulatory agencies,” he says.

One concept he and others are pushing is for Alberta to champion a “joint command centre” for crisis management involving both industry and government. “This is an absolute ‘must’ to better deal with a crisis in an effective, timely, proactive and strategic manner.”

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