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Public Relations Review 32 (2006) 367–376

Crisis communications preparedness among U.S. organizations:

Activities and assessments by public relations practitioners

Reghan Cloudman

a

, Kirk Hallahan

b,

aU.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA

bDepartment of Journalism and Technical Communication and Center for Research on Communication and Technology, Colorado State University, C-225 Clark, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1785, USA

Received 15 July 2005; received in revised form 28 August 2006; accepted 1 September 2006

Abstract

A survey of U.S. public relations practitioners (n = 126) found that three-quarters of their employer organizations had a written crisis communications plan and that organizations, as a whole, were reasonably prepared to engage in crisis communications. Preparedness was measured based on the presence of a crisis plan as well as indices related to tactics, training, the maintenance of contact lists, and media monitoring. Preparedness was found to be positively correlated to organization size, the level of autonomy, and delegation of authority within the organization, and the process orientation of the organization, but not organization type nor involvement in international versus domestic-only operations. Practitioners from organizations with plans had lower assessments of their relationships with publics, but greater confidence in their ability to respond.

© 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Crisis preparedness; Crisis plans; Public relations; Autonomy; Process orientation; Organizational size; Organizational–public relation-ships

1. Introduction

Although crisis communications has received extensive attention over the past two decades, comparatively little research exists about the actual level of crisis preparedness within public relations. Only about 40–50% of U.S. companies have written crisis plans (Kiger, 2001, p. 31;Penrose, 2000, p. 155), while communication has received little attention in efforts to develop measures of organization-wide crisis preparedness (Kim, 2004;Pauchant & Mitroff, 1992).

2. Conceptualization

Crises often are examined as unexpected events that have potentially negative consequences for organization (Barton, 1993, p. 2). In a public relations context, however, crises can be more precisely defined as the state of uncertainty resulting from a triggering event that disrupts an organization’s routine activities (Ho & Hallahan, 2004).

Preparedness is an important element of anticipating a crisis that involves mentally rehearsing scenarios and equip-ping the organization with systems and procedures so that responses are appropriate, sufficient, and timely (Hill,

Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 970 491 3963; fax: +1 970 491 2908. E-mail address:kirk.hallahan@colostate.edu(K. Hallahan).

0363-8111/$ – see front matter © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2006.09.005

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2002). Failure to satisfy constituents’ needs and to instill trust and confidence during a crisis period can be catastrophic (Caponigro, 2000, p. 143;Coombs, 1998, 1999; Fink, 1986, p. 92;Heath, 2004, p. 35;Sturges, 1994).

No standard definition of crisis communication preparedness exists in the literature. This study differentiated between preparedness as a measurable state of readiness and versus the process of planning. Whereas anticipation of crises involves identifying the various risks under which the organization operates and assessing the organization’s vulnerabilities (Guth, 1995a, p. 12;Heath, 2004, p. 34), readiness implies taking the requisite steps so the organization can follow pre-determined responses when appropriate to do so.

2.1. Crisis preparedness—five activities

Based upon a literature review, this study focused on five key sets of activities in which organizations might engage and thus serve as tangible indicators of crisis preparedness.

2.1.1. Presence of a written plan

Plans provide a critical blueprint for training, pre-determine best practices, and can save precious response time (Caywood & Stocker, 1993;Fearn-Banks, 2002, pp. 285–346). Effective plans must be updated periodically and made accessible to all individuals who might be involved in a crisis response (Caponigro, 2000, p. 101;Penrose, 2000, p. 157).

2.1.2. Tactical preparedness

A written plan must be supported by tactical preparation—an aspect largely overlooked in crisis research (Stacks, 2004, p. 38). Key tactical elements include the appointment of a crisis team to anticipate contingencies and then take charge during a crisis (Littlejohn, 1983). Also critical is the appointment, training, and empowerment of one or more spokespersons who can speak with authority and a “single voice.” Other practical considerations include producing

emergency procedure checklists to be followed by particular units or individuals (Lukaszewski, 1987, p. 45;Marra, 1998, p. 462), the acquisition and organization of equipment and materials (including crisis communications kits), and an annual crisis preparedness budget that provides for the routine updating of equipment, supplies, and training (Campbell, 1999, p. 151). Organizations must also prepare for crises through the creation of a contingency web site and related Internet tools (Middleberg, 2001, p. 161).

2.1.3. Training

Preparing staff to respond is a crucial, but often neglected, aspect of preparedness. Communications training provides a useful way to test, re-evaluate and modify a written plan and challenges employees to assume the roles they must assume during a crisis (Borda & Mackey-Kallis, 2004, p. 125).

2.1.4. Maintenance of contact lists

One of the most essential parts of an effective communications response is the ability to reach employees, media, and other stakeholders using accurate contact information that is updated periodically in advance (Caponigro, 2000, p. 192, 214;Heath & Millar, 2004).

2.1.5. Media monitoring

Finally, preparedness involves include systematic environmental scanning and monitoring and protocols for

desig-nating triggering events. Organizations must identify trends or events that might affect them, and then pre-determine

what circumstances or conditions would prompt organizations to go into crisis response mode (Campbell, 1999). This especially involves keeping abreast of developments in the print and broadcast media and the Internet.

2.2. Alternative measures of preparedness

While the indicators outlined above focus on organizational actions, this study also investigated two possible measures involving assessments by practitioners of their organizations crisis preparedness.

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2.2.1. Quality of organizational–public relationships

One measure focused on the degree to which publics were favorably predisposed toward the organization. Indeed, effective crisis responses require fortifying pre-existing relationships (Borda & Mackey-Kallis, 2004, p. 122;Holder, 2004, p.52).Heath (2004, p. 33)goes as far as to suggest that crisis planning involves training and preparing key stakeholders for the possibility that a crisis could occur.

2.2.2. Confidence in organization’s ability to respond

Separate from actual ability, perceptions among practitioners and their peers about the organization’s ability to respond are an important element of preparedness.Penrose (2000, p. 126)argued it is important to examine how organizations perceive crises to understand whether their response will be successful.

2.3. Predictors of crisis communications preparedness

In addition to describing their level of crisis preparedness, this study also sought to understand how five key variables might lead to higher or lower levels of preparedness.

2.3.1. Organization size, type, and scope

Preparedness was posited to vary by an organization’s size, type (whether for-profit or not-for-profit), and scope (whether its operations were international or U.S. domestic only).Guth (1995b), for example, found that larger orga-nizations and for-profit orgaorga-nizations had a higher level of preparedness than smaller and not-for-profit orgaorga-nizations. Similarly, organizations that operate internationally encounter more contingencies and thus might be expected to engage in higher levels of crisis preparedness.

2.3.2. Communications autonomy and delegation of authority

Recognizing that cultures vary across organizations, this study considered styles of autonomy and delegation of authority and the resulting impact on crisis preparedness. Marra (2004, p. 321)argued that excellent crisis public relations requires a supportive organizational communication culture or philosophy (p. 321) and is influenced by the amount of autonomy given to the public relations department (p. 313; also seeMarra, 1998, p. 469). An open communication environment enhances trust and encourages transactional leadership (Conrad & Pool, 2002, p. 85), encourages delegation (Engel, 1983, p. 35) and is a more reliable predictor of crisis communication success (Penrose, 2000, pp. 160–161).

2.3.3. Process orientation

Process-oriented organizations follow specified protocols, have a hierarchical structure, and take fewer risks than organizations that are not focused on processes. Less process-oriented organizations make fast decisions, have a flat management structure, and take more risks (Goodman, 1998). Because process-oriented organizations follow procedures, such a cultural orientation might be a natural prerequisite for crisis preparedness.

3. Hypotheses and method

3.1. Hypotheses

Based on this conceptualization, this study tested two hypotheses related to practitioners’ activities and assessments of crisis preparedness:

H1. Crisis preparedness (evidenced in the presence of a written plan, tactical preparation, training, maintenance of

contact lists, and monitoring of media) is greater among organizations that: (a) are larger in size, (b) operate for profit, (c) operate internationally, (d) delegate authority and encourage autonomy, and (e) are process-oriented.

H2. Crisis preparedness (evidenced in the same measures) is positively related to practitioners’: (a) perceptions about

the quality of organizational–public relationships, and (b) confidence in their organization’s ability to respond to crises effectively.

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3.2. Method

To investigate these questions, a survey was conducted of public relations practitioners in the United States, drawn from the membership directory of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA, 2004).

3.2.1. Sample and response rate

The systematic sample included PRSA members on the staffs of for-profit businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and government institutions. Agency personnel, consultants, educators, students, retirees, and international members were excluded. A sample of 560 names was determined necessary for sufficient statistical power and to generate 100–110 responses based on an anticipated 20% response rate. From the 560 questionnaires mailed, 126 usable questions were returned, resulting in an acceptable 23% response rate.

3.2.2. Instrumentation

A four-page survey containing a cover letter and 58 questions was mailed to the sample followingDillman’s (2000)

tailored design method.

3.2.3. Operationalization

Criterion (dependent) measures measuring levels of crisis preparedness included asking respondents whether their organization had a written crisis communication plan and, if yes, to then indicate on separate 7-point Likert scales the degree to which their plan was: (a) complete and (b) accessible to employees. Similarly, respondents were asked whether or not their organization had a crisis management team, how frequently the team met, and whether a public relations practitioner participated.

Indices were constructed (all using 7-point Likert scales) to measure tactical preparedness (9 items), training (8 items), contact list maintenance (3–5 tools for each of 3 groups), media monitoring (3 media), organizational–public relationships (5 items), and confidence in handling crises (4 items).

Predictor (independent) variables were measured as follows: Organization size was measured by asking for the orga-nization’s total number of employees worldwide. Organization type was determined using a check-off question where respondents indicated whether their organization could be best described as a for-profit, not-for-profit, government or other organization. International versus domestic scope of operations was determined through separate check-off questions where respondents were asked to indicate whether their organizations either: (a) operated facilities abroad or (b) offered products or services abroad.

Autonomy and delegation of authority was operationalized using a 10-item, 7-point Likert scale adapted from previous research (Conrad & Pool, 2002;Engel, 1983; Marra, 1998, 2004; Penrose, 2000). Process orientation was measured using a 6-item, 7-point Likert-type scale that asked participants about their organization’s management style, based onGoodman (1998).

4. Findings

4.1. Profile of respondents

Respondents worked for organizations that ranged in size from 3 to 800,000 employees, which were classified for analysis purposes into large (n = 30, more than 10,000 employees), medium (n = 42, 500–9999 employees) and small (n = 46, 3–499 employees). Of the total, 34% of the practitioners worked at for-profit businesses (n = 43), 40% at not-for-profit organizations (n = 50), and 23% for government (n = 29). Approximately three-quarters of employer organizations (n = 87) operated only in the United States, while 30% (n = 37) sold products or services abroad, 26% (n = 33) operated facilities abroad, and 25% (n = 30) had employees working abroad. Among respondents, 54% (n = 66) reported having at least one domestic crisis during the past 12 months, while only 21% (n = 14) experienced at least one crisis abroad.

4.2. Crisis preparedness

Some 73% of respondents (n = 92) reported their organization had a written crisis management plan, while 79% (n = 94) said their organizations had written crisis communications plan, which was either a part of the written

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management plan or a stand-alone document. Overall, respondents felt their plans were reasonably complete (M = 2.87, S.D. = 1.55; on a 7-point scale where 1 = very detailed). They also felt their plans were accessible to employees (M = 2.85, S.D. = 1.84, on a 7-point scale where 1 = very accessible).

Among those with plans, 82% of respondents (n = 79) reported that their plan had been updated within the past year, including 56% (n = 53) who reported updates within the past 6 months. Only six respondents reported that 2 years had lapsed since the last update; four respondents said their plan was never updated. Some 46% said that updates were routinely scheduled, while about 12% said recent plan updates resulted from a change of management. Recent crisis events were cited by only 13% of respondents as the reasons for updating of their plan.

Some 73% of respondents (n = 93) said that their organizations have a crisis management team. Notably, only six organizations reported that public relations practitioners do not participate on the team. About 54% of respondents said their crisis team has one PR representative, while 24% had two PR representatives, and 13% had three PR representatives. About 28% reported that team meetings were held more than once a month. Various other frequencies were reported, including 16% monthly, 25% quarterly, and 14% annually.

Reported levels of crisis communications preparedness are summarized in Table 1. For the 9-item tactics index (Table 1a), the results suggest a wide range of preparedness. Respondents were most likely to have identified a spokesperson and least likely to fund training, fund contingencies, or maintain a contingency website.

Most surprising was the reported lack of emphasis on training reported inTable 1b. Organizations are most likely to engage in briefings and spokesperson training, but took relatively little advantage of other techniques. Maintenance of contact lists also varied considerably (Table 1c). Organizations were most likely to track employee contact information, especially work and facsimile numbers.

Table 1d suggests respondents’ organizations were actively engaged in monitoring print media, but less likely to monitor the Internet or broadcast.

Another surprising finding involved practitioners’ comparatively poor perceptions of the quality of their organi-zations’ relationships with key publics (M = 5.42 on a 7-point index where 1 = positive valence). Yet practitioners exhibited reasonably high levels of confidence in their organizations’ abilities to cope with crises (M = 3.40).

4.3. Hypothesis tests

Group comparisons were based on Chi-square goodness-of-fit tests or post hoc comparisons using one-way ANOVAs. All findings were deemed statistically significant at the p≤ .05 level.

4.3.1. activities as indicators of crisis preparedness

ForH1, the effect of the predictor variables were considered separately as they related to: (a) the presence of a written crisis communications plan, (b) the mean score on the tactics index, (c) the mean score on the training index, (d) the mean score on maintenance of contact lists indices, and (e) the mean scores for the separate measures for monitoring of the print media, the broadcast media and the Internet.

In support ofH1a, large organizations reported having plans and small organizations reported having no plan at significantly different levels (χ2= 9.57, d.f. = 2, p = .00). Of the 24 organizations without a plan, only 1 organization was in the large category, while 15 organizations without plans were concentrated in the small category. The same trend was found when the tactics index was considered. The mean score for small organizations was M = 4.47—significantly lower than the mean for the medium (M = 3.36) or large (M = 2.50) organizations (F2,80= 12.03, p = .00). The same

pattern emerged for training (Table 1b): large organizations (M = 3.61) were significantly different from both the small (M = 5.60) and medium organizations (M = 5.29; F2,61= 7.85, p = .00).

No differences were found based on size in maintaining contact lists or in monitoring print media. Small organizations engaged in less Internet monitoring than the other two (F2,117= 3.58, p = .03). Larger organizations thus monitored

broadcast more that medium-sized organizations, which in turn monitored broadcasts more than small organizations (F2,117= 7.97, p = .00).

H1b predicted that for-profit organizations would exhibit greater crisis preparedness than either not-for-profit or government institutions. Although based on previous research, this proposition was not supported (χ2= 4.35, d.f. = 2,

p = .11). Similarly, non-significant findings were found for the tactics index, the training index, maintenance of contact

lists, and the monitoring of print or broadcast media. However, for-profit organizations engaged in significantly higher levels of Internet monitoring compared to not-for-profit organizations (F2,121= 5.31, p = .00).

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Table 1

Activities indicating crisis communication preparedness

Scale items Mean Standard deviation

(a) Tactics index (9 items, alpha = 0.92) (1 = extremely well, 7 = not well at all) 3.53 1.54

Identify organizational spokesperson(s) 1.89 1.29

Keep emergency procedure checklist 2.90 1.90

Keep updated media deadline list 3.15 2.04

Maintain contingency plans 3.29 1.96

Maintain a crisis lit 3.42 2.13

Maintain triggering events list 3.86 2.04

Fund crisis communications training budget 4.47 2.23

Fund crisis contingency budget 4.49 2.19

Prepare a contingency website 4.57 2.26

(b) Training index (8 items, alpha = 0.93) (1 = a lot, 7 = very little) 5.11 1.54

Briefings 3.90 2.05

Spokesperson training 4.23 2.05

Crisis workshops 4.86 1.95

Crisis simulations 4.91 2.08

Other training activities 5.04 1.94

Role playing 5.14 1.86

Computer desktop exercises 5.33 1.86

Simulations for the media 5.44 1.88

(c) Maintenance of updated contact lists (1 = extremely well, 7 = not well at all)

Employee list index (5 items, alpha = 0.81) 1.80 0.95

Work phone 1.41 0.69

E-mail 1.57 1.09

Home phone

Fax phone 2.07 1.63

Cell phone 2.14 1.49

(d) Media monitoring (1 = very often, 7 = rarely)a

Print media 1.43 0.81

Internet 2.17 1.76

Broadcast media 2.25 1.72

Media list index (3 items, alpha = 0.92) 2.56 1.67

Work phone 2.38 1.75

Fax phone 2.64 1.84

E-mail 2.72 1.81

Stakeholder list index (3 items, alpha = 0.95) 2.59 1.52

Phone numbers 2.42 1.46

E-mail 2.53 1.60

Fax phone 2.75 1.69

aNo index was computed for media monitoring because the Cronbach alpha for the three items was only .60.

H1c predicted that U.S. organizations with international operations would be better prepared for crises than orga-nizations with only domestic operations, but was not significant (χ2= 2.94, d.f. = 1, p = .08). These findings might be artifact of the uneven number of organizations in each category (87 domestic versus 31 international organizations). The only significant finding was that organizations with operations abroad engaged in significantly more Internet monitoring (M = 2.34; F1,125= 3.70, p = .05).

H1d predicted that crisis preparedness was positively related to practitioners’ autonomy and delegated decision-making authority and was supported (Table 2a: M = 3.35, S.D. = 1.02). When presence of a written plan is considered, the 92 organizations with a crisis plan (M = 3.15) appeared to have more communication autonomy than the 22 organizations that did not have a plan (M = 4.08; F1,112= 17.01, p = .00). Similarly, there was a strong correlation between the tactics

and the autonomy indices (Pearson r = .67), suggesting that as much as 44% of the variance in the tactics index scores can be explained by knowing the autonomy score. There was also a strong correlation between the training index and autonomy indices, accounting for about 34% of the variance (r = .59). There also were significant findings when

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Table 2

Predictors of crisis preparedness: autonomy and process orientation

Item (1 = strongly agree, 7 = strongly disagree, 8 = N/A) Mean Standard deviation

(a) Autonomy index (10 items, alpha = 0.85) 3.35 1.02

PR practitioners are valued members of organization 2.63 1.55

PR practitioners empowered to make decisions 2.73 1.49

Crisis management team can act decisively in a crisis 2.76 1.85

Employees have flexibility in daily activities 2.99 1.43

PR staff has great deal of decision-making authority 3.13 1.58

Employees can act decisively in a crisis 3.22 1.71

Employees encouraged to make their own decisions 3.44 1.44

Employees feel comfortable making own decisions 3.70 1.42

Employees are very regulated (reversed) 4.18 1.51

Organization exerts authority over employees 4.54 1.47

(b) Process index (6 items, alpha = 0.77) 3.43 1.17

Management believes in following procedures closely 2.99 1.63

Organization is very process-oriented 3.13 1.80

Hierarchy and structure are emphasized 3.32 1.65

Employees closely follow step-by-step procedures 3.48 1.45

Management believes in taking risks 3.61 1.64

Organization is very informal 4.06 1.93

looking at the correlation of the autonomy index and each of the maintenance of list indices: employees (r = .22), media (r = .38), and stakeholders (r = .33). A positive correlation also was found between autonomy and monitoring of broadcast media (r = .27), but not for Internet or print media monitoring.

H1e predicted a positive relationship between crisis preparedness and the level of an organization’s process ori-entation and was supported (Table 2b: M = 3.43, S.D. = 1.17). Organizations with a plan (M = 3.21) demonstrated significantly higher levels of process orientation than those organizations without a plan (M = 4.20, F1,115= 14.79, p = .00). The process orientation scale also was found to be significantly correlated to the tactics index (r = .38), the

training index (r = .37), to maintenance of lists (r = .19), and Internet monitoring (r = .18).

4.3.2. Practitioners’ assessments of crisis preparedness

AlthoughH2a predicted that quality of existing organizational–public relationships was positively related to crisis preparedness, just the opposite was found (Table 3a: M = 5.74, S.D. = 1.06). The evidence suggests that organizations do engage in crisis preparedness to overcome perceived deficiencies in relationships with publics, not enhance relation-ships. Strong negative correlations were found between the relationship index scores and the tactics index (r =−.64), the training index (r =−.51), the maintenance of lists (employees: r = −.33; media: r = −.50; stakeholders: r = −.20), and the monitoring of print media (r =−.29), broadcast media (r = −.51) and the Internet (r = −.35), Such perceptions were

Table 3

Practitioners’ assessments of crisis communications preparedness

Item (1 = strongly agree, 7 = strongly disagree) Mean Standard deviation

(a) Relationship index (5 items, alpha = 0.74) 5.47 1.06

Stakeholders involved in crisis communications planning 4.05 1.97

Media comes to us first as a source 5.48 1.57

Media know who to contact when a crisis occurs 5.85 1.53

Positive relationship with stakeholders 5.86 0.99

Public relations staff knows local reporters by name 6.08 1.31

(b) Organizational confidence index (4 items, alpha = 0.90) 3.40 1.65

Organization has handled crises successfully in the past 2.62 1.62

Organization is prepared for potential crises 3.49 1.89

Organization’s approach to crisis management is proactive 3.71 2.02

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Table 4

Impact of having a crisis plan on crisis preparedness index scores

Organizations with a plan Organizations without a plan F p Mean scores (7-point Likert scales; 1 = positive valence; 7 = negative valence)

Tactics index 3.14 5.48 F1,77= 26.73 .00

Training index 4.75 6.49 F1,62= 15.34 .00

Maintenance of contact lists

Employee index 1.69 2.26 F1,98= 5.21 .02 Media index 2.28 3.72 F1,114= 15.11 .00 Stakeholder index 2.29 3.29 F1,96= 7.95 .00 Monitoring Print media 1.46 1.58 F1,69= .381 .54 ns Broadcast media 1.98 3.58 F1,69= .2.81 .00 Internet 2.07 2.88 F1,69= 3.76 .08

Relationship quality index 5.68 4.43 F1,97= 22.55 .00

Confidence index 2.85 5.53 F1,113= 80.53 .00

pronounced among practitioners from larger organizations (M = 6.01) compared to practitioners from either medium (M = 5.37) or small organizations (M = 5.06; F2,95= 6.71, p = .002). As was the case withH1, no effects were detected

based on organization type; however, organizations with international operations (M = 5.88) had significantly lower assessments of relationship quality compared to organizations that operate only domestically (M = 5.34, F1,104= 4.98).

In support ofH2b, a positive relationship also was evident between crisis preparedness activities and practitioners’ perceptions of their organization’s effectiveness in dealing with crises (Table 3b: M = 3.40, S.D. = 1.65). What is not clear, however, is the cause and effect. Scores on the four-item organizational confidence index were positively correlated to the tactics index (r = .86), the training index (r = .68), maintenance of contact lists (employees: r = .32; media: r = .42; and stakeholderrs: r = .17), and monitoring of print media (r = .22), broadcast media (r = .56) and the Internet (r = .25). Although practitioners’ assessments about their organization’s ability to respond were generally favorable (overall M = 3.40), the scores significantly varied by organization size. Practitioners from larger organizations (M = 2.35) scored higher on the confidence index than practitioners from medium (M = 3.50) or small organizations (M = 4.10, F2,111= 10.97, p = .00). No statistically significant effects were detected based on either organization type

or scope of operations.

5. Discussion

This study found that engagement in crisis preparedness activities is positively related to the size of organizations (consistent withGuth, 1995b) and two important measures of organizational culture: the delegation of autonomy and authority and process orientation. The findings also suggest that crisis preparedness is negatively related to practitioners’ perceptions about the quality of organization–public relationships and positively related to confidence the organization’s ability to respond effectively. These effects appear to be most pronounced as organization size increases.

The potential value of crisis plans on preparedness is evident from the data inTable 4where the mean scores on the various indices are compared for organizations with and without crisis plans. Respondents from organizations with plans scored higher on the various preparedness measures, but significantly higher assessments of relationship quality were found among practitioners with no plan (M = 4.45) versus those with plans (M = 4.66; F1,87= 17.87). This

suggests practitioners whose organizations have no plans hold more positive views of relationships with constituents or are simply na¨ıve. Organization size and presence of the plan do not appear to operate synergistically (interaction

F1,85= .07, p = .93). Moreover, practitioners whose organization have a written crisis communications plan (M = 2.85)

are more confident about their ability to deal with a crisis versus those who do not have a plan (M = 5.53, F1,113= 80).

Again, the presence of a plan did not interact with organization size (interaction F =2,100= 2.14, p = .12).

This study purposely addressed the issue from dual perspectives: activities actually engaged in by organizations and assessments by practitioners. The consistent relationships between relationship quality and confidence to each of the activities-based measures suggest the construct validity of using alternative approaches.

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Particularly noteworthy is the finding that autonomy and process orientation appear to have independent effects on crisis preparedness and are unrelated to one another (r =−.04, p = .62). Yet autonomy was positively related to all of the preparedness measures except for the maintenance of employee lists and monitoring of the Internet. Process orientation was positively related to all of the preparedness measures, except for maintenance of lists of stakeholders, the maintenance of media lists and broadcast monitoring. When multiple regression was used to determine which variable might be a better predictor on the four measures where both were positively related, both autonomy and process orientation proved to have effects at the p = .05 level, together explaining between one-third and two-thirds of the variance in each instance (Tactics index—autonomy: beta = .46, process: beta = .52; R2= .46, d.f. = 2.12, F = 49.10; Training index—autonomy: beta = .48, process: beta = .32; R2= .36, d.f. = 2.78; F = 22.87; quality of relationships index—autonomy: beta =−.78, process: beta = −.28; R2= .55, d.f. = 2.98, F = 62.1; confidence index—autonomy: beta = .62, process: beta = .41, R2= .53, d.f. = 2,115, F = 64.9).

This study advanced theoretical understanding of crisis management by differentiating between planning as a process and preparedness as a state that can be measured among organizations and practitioners. Assuming the absence of response bias, it also found higher levels of planning by organizations than reported by Kiger (2001) or Penrose (2000). By demonstrating that organizational factors such as autonomy and process orientation are positively related to preparedness, it suggests that a fruitful avenue for future research would involve identifying other characteristics of organizations that could explain or predict crisis preparedness. These include analyses by industry, centralized versus decentralized structure, complexity of the organization, and risk-aversion, among others.

Although public relations theory places a premium on strategy and abstract approaches to examining the field, this study suggested that everyday practices remain an important area for investigation in a field were solid strategy must be accompanied by sound tactics.

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