Most people think that PR crises only happen when people are unethical or behave badly, but that’s sadly not true. A PR crisis can occur for a variety of reasons and sometimes, it’s simply unavoidable, such as during a natural disaster. For that reason, all PR professionals should have a solid PR crisis management plan ready for quick action should the need arise.

Creating a crisis management plan should be a thoughtful process. At the time of crisis, you’re not going to have time to consider all your options. It’s better to have clear steps laid out before you need them. Here are 5 components you should include in your crisis management plan.

Assessment & Discussion Step

The first step in any crisis management plan should be to consider the problem and talk about it internally. What happened, and who does it affect? A data breach may affect some or all of an organization’s customers, whereas a natural disaster can impact the entire community.

In the assessment step, it’s important to identify risks to the business or entity. What are the consequences of the crisis, and how do they affect the organization?

Once you have the problem and potential fallout defined, it’s important to have a discussion about how best to approach the problem. Defining a consistent message and action plan will minimize the damage and help your organization recover.

Pre-Assigned Roles

During a crisis, no one wants to be in charge—but someone has to. It’s important to define the roles each department and/or individual should take on during a crisis before it’s needed. You might need to define these based on the type of crisis as well. IT will need to be involved if there is a cybersecurity issue, for instance, while human resources will be heavily involved after a natural disaster or public health crisis.

Clear & Timely Communication

People expect quick action after a crisis and they don’t want empty words or excuses. It’s important to prioritize a quick response and to make all your communications as clear as possible. If you wait too long or you deliver a vague and unhelpful message, your organization is likely to experience backlash. That’s why it’s so important to build standards for communication with the public into your crisis plan.

Define Your Communication Channels

Organizations have to be comfortable using digital tools for PR, especially during a crisis. You need to know in advance how your message will share with the general public. Will you use social media? If there is a safety issue, such as a product recall, how will you notify retailers that customers should dispose of their items? For some crises, real-time communication is critical for public safety.

Prepare to Monitor the Situation

Once you’ve released your initial statements, the crisis control doesn’t stop there. The public and other organizations may respond to your messaging and it’s important to stay on top of that discussion in case you need to take further action.

Although safety should always be your first priority, your organization’s image matters too. If you don’t respond as the situation progresses or if the organization is seen as not caring about those who have been impacted, you will have to deal with the consequences. Proper monitoring and response are key factors in mitigating any damage to your organization.

Crisis Management Plans Are Unique

Although it’s important to incorporate these essentials into your PR crisis management plan, it’s also important to realize that the plan for each organization will be unique. Every organization has its own purpose, positioning, and values, which could affect how it should best respond in a crisis situation.

When creating your plan, it’s important to take these factors into consideration. While it would be easy to take a boilerplate management plan and use it without making any changes, that won’t serve you well during an actual crisis. Take the time to personalized and adjust your plan based on the needs of your organization and you’ll be better able to cope if and when a crisis should arise.

In the end, it’s important to think about what really matters in a crisis. While PR is intended to protect an entity’s reputation, it’s also important to remember that real harm occurs when a crisis strikes and minimizing that harm should be one of your top priorities. Accountability and transparency are key.