Generic vs incident specific plans: What is best for your business?

The question of whether you should choose to create generic or incident specific response plans often comes down to funding and the resources you have at your disposal. More often than not, the value of a contingency plan lies in the quality of the work, not the scale of it.  

The difference between a specific and a generic plan

Firstly, let’s get the terminology straight: Contingency plans are plans tailored to be used during the response to specific incident types, as opposed to plans that address incidents on a more general level. So, from the terminology point of view, one might easily think that an incident specific plan is the best way to go, but that is not necessarily the case. 

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With an emergency management function in-house, you can invest more time in writing plans for various scenarios. If that's not the case, you're better off writing a plan that covers several scenarios, predominantly because it’s better to write a good generic plan than a simplistic specific one, even if it’s as general as;

  • Ensure that are people are safe.
  • Ensure that business can continue as normal.

Whilst specific and focused plans are often more comprehensive, it’s imperative that you have resources and time to train people on all the described scenarios. In the event of an incident or crisis people must be able to use the plans you have made. If you don’t have the time or resources available to do this work properly the generic plans might suit you best because they can be used as aide memoirs -a plan that doesn’t tell you exactly what to do, but rather influences your decision making.

Your risk analysis will form the basis of your emergency preparedness plan, whether specific or generic; even the most comprehensive plans should only address the main threats to the organisation. You can’t plan for every eventuality, and it wouldn’t be sensible to exhaust all your resources on doing so.

Read more: Does Anyone Know Where the Crisis Management Plan Is?

An airline should be planning for an aircraft accident, ash cloud, and strike whereas an oil company may not plan for any of these specifically, as they are likely to be low impact and low-likelihood events.

Keep it role-specific

Generic or not, the plan still must be role specific, and it’s paramount that it still addresses what your responders should do as individuals. To get this right you should conduct interviews with each of the key functions in your organisation and work out their key tasks and priorities for an incident.        

This is quite often the best way to develop these plans. They could be generic or specific, but they must have input from key stakeholders in order to be effective.

Read more: Why Crisis Management Must be Hierarchical

Things to consider

Specific or generic, then? In my opinion, it boils down to these decisive factors:

Competence: Yours or your team’s capability to write the plan

Training: Capability to roll out and exercise those plans.

Finance: What resources are available to you?

IT structure: The plans must be readily available at all times from all locations. If you don’t have the necessary IT structure in place to deliver the plans to people, you are better off starting with a generic plan.

Revise: Capability to revise the plans on a regular basis and make changes based on business landscape and organisational change.

 How to write a contingency plan

By Andrew Carvell

Andy is the Managing Director of One Voice’s international business, based in London and has worked with incident and crisis management solutions since 2010. He has a particular focus on the aviation and energy sectors and works closely with One Voice’s partner Control Risks to broaden the service offering of both parties. Andy has a degree in law from the University of Nottingham and outside of work, enjoys rugby, golf and outdoor pursuits.

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