Crisis is a threat in nearly all industries, senior housing included. Elder care lawyers remind us daily of the perceived or real wrongdoing in senior care communities, and several cases of significant crisis in senior housing have been documented.

But how one responds to crisis – whether it be catastrophic and widespread, smoldering over time, or a viral bad review – can make or break a company’s reputation and financial outlook…pretty much all within the first 15 minutes.


Author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communications, James E. Lukaszewski defines crisis as “the sudden and unexpected creation of victims, accompanied by unplanned visibility for an organization.”

Corporate crisis can be boiled down to two main types:

Sudden. Some crises are external and simply cannot be planned for. They are often beyond the control of the organization. Sudden crises include such events as natural phenomena, terrorist attacks or environmental disasters. While these crises have the potential to harm many people, they rarely affect reputation or elicit blame.

Smoldering. The most common kind, a smoldering crisis is one that has been brewing over time and is typically internal. Examples are mismanagement, whistleblowing, negligence, scandal, or other improprieties. They have the most likelihood of damaging the organization’s reputation.


Within each crisis category are four levels of impact in descending order of severity:

Level 1: Widespread impact. Level 1 crises can result in harm to humans and/or significant damage to infrastructure. They are the sudden crises mentioned above, such as natural/environmental disasters and acts of terror. This and level 2 crises (below) involve victims and their family members, who must be notified with the utmost care, sensitivity, and sheltering from secondary or tertiary sources of information. Family members should never learn of a crisis from the media.
Level 2: Localized but serious. Level 2 crises are contained within the organization, with victims and/or significant damages. Examples are an active shooter, health emergency, food contamination, fire, flood, vehicular crash involving staff or residents.
Level 3: Business disruption. Level 3 crises can be defined as operational events that impact business practices, staff, clients or residents in a negative way. Examples are financial, cyber, legal, personnel, regulatory, or security breaches.
Level 4: Adverse online presence. While not technically a crisis, bad or false reviews, poor rankings and listings can negatively affect a brand’s reputation. Such reports also have the power to infect perceptions long after the crisis has passed.


Before we go one step further, extinguish any thought of “it won’t happen to us.” That’s how many of us naturally respond to that which we think may never happen, but consider a crisis communications plan an insurance policy against corporate ruin. You wouldn’t go without health, life, home or car insurance, would you? Considering the perception of senior housing, the chances of a situation tarnishing your reputation are potentially greater than something threatening the things you’d be nuts not to insure.


That is the question indeed, because response is everything in crisis and poor response – or no response – has the potential to make a bad situation much worse. As noted, the first 15 minutes after crisis are critical for many reasons. Obviously, any victims or hazardous conditions need to be tended to by the appropriate authorities.

But there is much more to mitigating crisis than emergency attention to unfolding circumstances. In this day and age of viral and instantaneous communications, reasonable, responsible messaging has never been more important. Consider the media, victims, family members, staff, residents, board members, investors and other stakeholders who need and deserve to hear from you. And with over three billion people around the world on social media, “citizen journalists” will tell your story if you don’t.

Social media is a total game changer for crisis communications. Now everyone can weigh in on a situation online, whether they are properly informed or not. Especially in level 1 and 2 crises, misinformation, rumors and speculation can cause further harm to victims and other stakeholders. Careful, regular monitoring of social media by informed parties close to the situation is an absolute must in modern crisis communications.


Quite simply, a known, practiced and robust crisis communications plan can mean the difference between healthy recovery from crisis and irreversible damage to reputation, financial prospects and, ultimately, continued operation.


Like an onion, effective crisis communication has many layers. Because the reputational and financial stakes are so high during and in the aftermath of crisis, businesses and organizations literally can’t afford not to be equipped with training, resources and message guidance from specialists in crisis communications.

We at IVY Marketing Group are very excited to tell you about a new product we’re developing. ResponderHub™ is a HIPAA secure, icloud-based platform designed to help our clients in senior housing and services prepare for, prevent and respond to crisis. Our team of certified content marketing experts are now certified in crisis communications by the Public Relations Society of America and media-trained by the Institute For Crisis Management. Watch for more information about ResponderHub™ to come!