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How to Handle a Website Crisis

Your company website. Some days you can’t live Imagewith it—technical glitches, uploading difficulties, error messages. But you definitely can’t live without it. But what if your website had a catastrophic failure? What communication options would you turn to? I posed that question to four crisis experts to find out what they would recommend.

Gerald Baron, author and founder of PIER Systems, a web-based emergency communications system for organizations. Currently, Gerald is a senior advisor at O’Brien’s Response Management and blogs at Crisis Blogger:

When I started selling PIER as a web-based application hosted on external servers in 2000 we ran into unbelievable opposition from IT folks who had concerns about using external hosting in a crisis, especially government agencies. Now, external hosting of an application like that is seen as a tremendous advantage. My first answer is to have an alternative web platform outside of your own IT system so that if you have a catastrophic failure you can rely on the backup web system.

In a loss of power, people worry about the accessibility of the Internet. But major disasters with large-scale power outages have proven the resilience of the Internet as well as people's access to it. Most people now access the web via battery powered remote devices such as phones or tablets. These are easily recharged via their car chargers. So as long as people can get to a gas station to keep their car batteries charged, they will be using the Internet to get information.

Dr. Bill Smith, former assistant warning coordinator for Washington County, Arkansas, now Marketing and Communications Director at Northwestern State in Louisiana

A checklist of alternative methods of distributing information is the starting point.  During Katrina then Rita, many universities on the Gulf Coast discovered that while their primary webservers went underwater in the campus data centers, the companies used by their athletic departments were in other parts of the country and could take over critical communication roles.  As recently as the Joplin, Mo., tornado, the local school district temporarily declared its Facebook account as the official communications tool as the school system lost its IT department.

Do you travel with an emergency USB key?  On this key should be a copy of every policy and procedure related to an emergency used by your organization, lists of vital phone numbers and email addresses, important data needed to access remote computer resources, and portable versions of the browser and email client used by your organization.  The key may become your computer at any moment, anywhere in the world.

Jane Jordan-Meier, Principal at Jane Jordan and Associates and author of the recent The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management:

In my company, we have a plan that calls for an out-of-state and out-of-country contact to coordinate and funnel information. Also, I have a virtual assistant, who is an emergency back-up as well for funneling information. And lastly, I am still very much of a paper girl and have all the key contacts in my diary that I carry everywhere with me.

Recently, the Christchurch (New Zealand) experienced an earthquake, and nothing worked.  They relied on old fashioned notice boards, hand written notes, community gatherings. Emergency plans should include the use of traditional communication methods, should all else fail.

Melissa Agnes, Principal at, a crisis management and training company in Montreal:

My biggest backup plan, in case my website, blog or social media channels were to go down, is my email list. I work hard at growing my list of email subscribers and regularly communicating with them whether it be through blog updates or sending out exclusive, value-added content just for them. This helps, not only to build my relationship with each person, but to keep me top-of-mind. There's nothing more annoying than receiving an email from someone you subscribed to months before and not remembering who or how they got your email address.




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