Damage Control in Crisis Management

Damage Control in Crisis Management

Damage control is just that. It is containing the damage and loss of reputation, revenue, confidence, or loyalty between employees and managers or between consumers and suppliers. Damage control may range from issuing a media release to spending billions of dollars for new packaging (such as occurred in the Tylenol cyanide situation in the early 1980s). It may entail a public apology, comment, or appearance by a celebrity to explain his or her actions to a disillusioned fan base.

Limiting the Damage

Methods of damage control are necessarily linked to the situation, so it is naturally difficult to offer specific ways to contain damage for all circumstances. In some cases, media relations may help resolve a crisis situation. In other cases, much more needs to be done, such as with the oil spill in Alaska. In some situations, resolution and damage control may be achieved within hours, while others may take years to bring a recovery.

s have been learned from historic crises in the past, from Chernobyl to the Exxon Valdez, from the Tylenol scare to the shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, just to name a few. Damage control may be limited to online or Internet access, such as steps taken to address the case of the Craigslist.org killer or police departments engaging in profiling a serial killer and judging the risk of them striking again.

The key to limiting damage is for individuals of a crisis management team to stop and ask themselves whether they are doing everything possible to manage a crisis, protect human life, and restore public confidence. Depending on the magnitude of a crisis, a company, business, or entity may experience little fallout, or it may end up facing questions and accusations in a room full of media.

Preventing drawn out impact from a crisis or emergency means taking immediate steps to not only face the emergency but also to admit it and determine to resolve it as quickly as possible. This is especially important for public companies or those that are extremely visible in public and private sectors.

Damage control should immediately address situations that involve loss of life, threaten human life, create a sense of panic, offer special vulnerability to the media, or entail moral offenses, such as kickbacks, bribes, or conspiracies.

Restoring Confidence

A company that has lost consumer confidence and loyalty may find restoring them to be an uphill battle. The most recent difficulties of Toyota exemplify this difficulty. However, a company that efficiently and quickly meets a crisis, such as Johnson & Johnson did during the Tylenol scare of the early 1980s, may very well increase the loyalty and confidence of consumers because of the efficiency, determination, and focus on addressing the problem and also the steps taken to reduce the risk of the incident happening again.

Many companies have fallen because of their inability to handle a crisis in a manner that conveys concern to the public. Several high profile crises, including Three Mile Island, Union Carbide, Watergate, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill, are still the first examined and picked apart by students, corporations, public relations departments, and crisis management teams around the globe for what not to do in the event of a crisis.

Such incidents are unfortunate but offer invaluable s to those focusing on effective crisis management and damage control methods. Damage control may be boiled down to a few specific points:

  • Communication.
  • Responsibility.
  • Resolution.

To restore public confidence and loyalty, any entity experiencing a crisis or emergency situation should offer full transparency as quickly as possible in addressing the situation, discussing what the company or corporation plans to do about it, taking responsibility for it, and implementing an appropriate response.


Damage control can be applied to every crisis situation or emergency, from rumors of a board member taking bribes or kickbacks to making sure backup generators will start up during a power outage. Damage control often saves a company's reputation, but more importantly it can save tens of thousands of lives if quick action is taken, responsibility accepted, and response focused on reducing the impact of a crisis.

A Crisis Management Checklist

Organization, information, and practice make up the foundation of successful crisis management planning. A crisis management checklist offers crisis teams the ability to track steps or options for a wide range of scenarios. The checklist may address preplanning, determining risk, assessing building safety, recommendations, contacts, and corporate policies in one report or document that may be updated on a regular basis.

This section covers the basics of what should be included in a crisis management checklist, though individuals are advised to tailor their checklist to their specific environments.

Checklist Basics

Whether a crisis management team prepares a checklist for steps to be taken in the event of natural disasters, traumatic incidents, emergencies, the unexpected death of a chief executive officer, a rogue employee, an alarming drop in financial security, or product tampering, a checklist will provide an excellent tool for assessing and developing a crisis management plan for a specific organization or company.

Such a checklist may be developed in a three-ring binder, as a computer document, or as a monthly report disseminated to crisis team management members, boards of directors, administrators, managers, and supervisors, depending on need.

Pre-incident Planning

Every company, business, or organization should determine its risk for a variety of natural or man made events. Some of the most common natural events may include:

  • Earthquakes.
  • Flood.
  • Hurricane or tornado.
  • Blizzard.
  • Pandemic.
  • Unexpected death of a CEO, financial adviser, supervisor, or others.

Common man made events include:

Risks for man made or natural events may be determined by the type of industry, the geographic location, past incidents of a company or organization, and the technologies used, along with procedures, policies, and regulations followed by an entity.

Other special considerations for assessing risk should be evaluated carefully by crisis teams, board members, supervisors, and staff. Remember that emergencies are unplanned events, and as such, may come out of left field for many. The key is to be as prepared as possible for potential scenarios, but do not forget to prepare for the totally unexpected.

Safety Considerations

In environments such as hospitals, public libraries, shopping malls, restaurants, and similar facilities, a variety of risks can be identified. Landscape design, automobile and foot traffic patterns, the size and design of reception areas, interior and exterior lighting, and alarm capabilities should all be assessed.

Everyone has responsibility for safety and security in the workplace. Regular inspections should occur to determine safety and security, as well as assessments and recommendations for change. It is important to follow up on recommendations to determine whether any action regarding them has occurred. A timeline for making changes should be established and verified.


Any crisis management checklist should contain important contact information, including names and telephone numbers. These may include:

  • Hospitals.
  • Local fire and rescue.
  • Law enforcement.
  • Corporate or facility security.
  • Corporate or facility crisis coordinator.
  • Data recovery systems.
  • Telephone or other communications companies.
  • Employee support assistance, for example, religious, psychological, trauma, and grief counselors.

Determining Corporate Policies

All businesses, large or small, domestic or international, and facilities such as schools, universities, factories, and corporations should have a variety of corporate policies and regular updates regarding practice, information flow, and policy revision. Corporate policies may include methods of dealing with:

  • Safety and security.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Workplace violence.
  • Facility safety.
  • Bomb threats.
  • Fire hazards.
  • Weapons.
Ensuring the safety of employees means following pre-employment screening procedures, which can include credit checks, criminal background checks, verification of prior education and employment, verification of certification or licensing, prior claims for workers' compensation, lawsuits, or other pre-employment legal difficulties of a prospective employee.

Creating the Crisis Team

A variety of questions should be asked throughout the implementation process of a crisis management team. For example, has the company or organization defined what constitutes a crisis? The second most important question is this, "What type of scenarios would require a crisis management plan to be put into action?"

The crisis management checklist should also list the names, titles, functions, and roles of each crisis team member. Such a list should also offer contact information for each individual.

Here are some of the most basic questions to ask during the development of a crisis team:

  • Has a person from the team been designated to communicate with local emergency services in the event of a crisis or emergency?
  • Has a meeting location for the team been identified and understood by all team members? Has an alternate meeting location been determined in case the first one is unavailable?
  • Does each team member and other involved personnel, such as board members, administrators, or managers, receive a crisis team call list or communications list?
  • Does the crisis team have the power to make immediate decisions and take actions without waiting for approval by boards of directors, investors, or other individuals?
  • Have steps been taken to ensure ample and free communications between team members?

A crisis management checklist should also offer evacuation plans, regardless of the scenario. The checklist should include the following considerations:

  • Is a written evacuation plan available, and has it been disseminated to all employees, staff, and management in a place of business or organization?
  • Does the evacuation plan offer designated gathering or meeting areas for employees, patients, children, or staff in an outdoor area in any given environment?
  • Does the evacuation plan take into consideration individuals with disabilities? Does it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
  • Is the evacuation plan posted in a visible area for public and employee viewing?
  • Do local rescue (fire, law enforcement, hospital) facilities have a copy of the planned evacuation process?
  • Have evacuation drills been practiced?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for calling an evacuation?

Crisis Management Checklist Points to Remember

A crisis management team's main priority is safety and preservation of life. During a crisis, team members or leaders should do the following:

  • Contact emergency service.
  • Ensure the protection of human life as well as safety.
  • Preserve evidence.
  • Prevent further damage (damage control).
  • Offer authoritative, effective crisis leadership.
  • Provide psychological support.
  • Distribute information to the media.
  • Provide for the continued safety of individuals.
  • Communicate openly and regularly with employees and senior management during and after a crisis situation.
  • Create and assess a damage report.

After the incident, assessment should determine whether the crisis plan was effective. Did it provide adequate solutions to prevent a prolonged interruption of services or performance? Have problems been identified, revised, and updated to develop a new plan that takes into consideration sections learned from the last one?


Ensuring compliance and helping individuals prepare, train, and react to emergencies or unexpected scenarios make up the foundation of effective crisis management.

Establishing an effective crisis management team, clearly defining functions, roles, leadership, and responsibility, and considering human psychological factors when putting crisis management into action are among the main responsibilities of crisis managers.

Always expect the unexpected and determine weaknesses in a contingency or emergency response plan before it needs to be put into action. Learn from the lessons or failures of others. Ensure safety, protect human life, and engage in damage control to recover both public and internal confidence.

Optimistically, most businesses will never need to implement a crisis action plan, but the unexpected often happens when we are least prepared for it. Therefore, be prepared: Plan, react, and respond.