Learning the easy way

I’m working on a story about crisis management for the next issue of Boating Industry. There’s no shortage of real-world examples of grave situations affecting dealerships and marinas — fires, hurricanes, ice storms, floods, oil spills and tornadoes, just to name a few. Everybody is at risk for some type of catastrophe, even if you live far from the coasts or common fire zones. From what I’m hearing, it’s most managers don’t have a disaster plan at the ready.

I interviewed Alan Bohling of Seattle Boat Company. His facility suffered a freakish disaster last July 4 when an errant firework set the company’s SkyLaunch Marina on fire during Seattle’s annual fireworks display.

Alan and I spoke the morning after the incident, a night that involved no sleep for him and many of his team members. It was an emotional conversation. Our recent conversation  was so much better.

With the raw emotions suppressed by time — a night’s sleep undoubtedly helped — we discussed how he and his team immediately sprung into action the night of the fire.

By the time the sun rose the next morning, his team had a press release written and distributed, emails sent to customers telling them the state of their boats, contact made with the insurance company and many local media outlets contacted to help spread accurate information to the public, many of whom saw pumped-up news reports about the disaster.

Bohling admitted the company didn’t have a plan in place at the time, but they sure do now. He offered a few tips for other business owners: have email lists (customers, key staff members, etc.) readily accessible on- or off-site; have an easy way to get in touch with your management team at all hours, even on a holiday; focus on informing your customers of the situation as soon as possible; show genuine compassion to your customers; know how to reach key suppliers/associates after hours; be prepared to counter inaccurate media coverage with your own message.

Nobody will advocate every business draft a contingency plan for all types of disasters. Such situations are hard to spot from a distance, but just a little planning can leave you feeling proud of your response, rather than consumed with regret over lost customers or damage to your brand.

It’s a cliché, but still worth repeating: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even a half hour of preparation could pay major dividends during a crisis, so get to it!

Learn how to prepare for uncommon disaster in the January issue of Boating Industry!

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