Telephone Train Wreck: Crisis Call Chaos in the Time of COVID-19

crisis call

The coronavirus situation has led to an explosion in the number of crisis management conference calls going on, as well as revealing how poorly these are conducted at many organizations. In today’s post, we’ll look at the common problems that afflict these crisis status calls and explain how they should be handled to achieve good results.


Related on BCMMETRICS: Homeward Bound: 7 Questions to Answer Before Sending Staff Home to Work 



If you are like most of my clients, you have been spending a lot of time in the past weeks participating in crisis management conference calls.

This is natural considering the seriousness and uncertainty of the current situation, with COVID-19 threatening public health and leading to the shutdown of wide sectors of the economy.

This situation makes it more important than ever that crisis calls be handled skillfully and productively.

Unfortunately, based on everything I have been hearing over the past few weeks, most organizations are not doing very well in terms of managing these calls.

Let’s see if together we can start turning that around.


The calls I’m talking about are the regular crisis management status update calls where the members of the organization’s crisis management team (CMT) get together by phone or video link to share information about the status of the crisis and determine in broad terms the next steps to be taken.

The purpose of these calls is for everyone to find out where the organization is and what it needs to do next.

The various departments should briefly share how things are going in their area, then the group should settle on the main next steps that everyone should be taking to deal with the crisis for the next period of time.


Unfortunately, a tight, focused call can be hard to achieve, especially when many people are on the call and the stress level is running high.

Having a good call is even harder when some of the participants are accustomed to talking about whatever they want, when they want (here’s looking at you, senior executives).

Here is a list of ways crisis status calls commonly get off-track:

  • There’s no designated leader or the leader is too low-key or gets overridden
  • There’s no standard agenda
  • People go off-topic
  • Senior executives take over but what they say is not pertinent
  • People don’t know how to raise their hands (indicate electronically that they want to speak)
  • People who should be heard from don’t get a chance to speak
  • The meeting goes on too long
  • There’s no designated end time or if there is it is not observed
  • The group does not establish the main next steps that should be taken
  • The group does not establish a time for the next status call.

A crisis status call is not the time for a freewheeling discussion by anyone on any topic.


For crisis status calls to work, they need to be facilitated by one recognized leader who exerts good control over who speaks, what topics are covered and for how long, and how long the meeting runs.

A successful crisis status call requires both the facilitator and the participants to know and follow the expectations for their role.

Here are my tips for how to conduct an effective crisis status call:


  • Remember that the call is a brief status update, not a multi-hour discussion.
  • The call is to determine where you’re at and what you need to do next—that’s it.


  • Have more frequent calls at the beginning of the crisis and taper off as the situation stabilizes.
  • Have calls at the same time(s) every day.

Crisis Call Organization

  • Calls should be structured the same way every time.
  • The facilitator should start and end on time.
  • Calls should be no longer than 30 minutes.
  • The facilitator should follow an agenda.
  • The facilitator should go from department to department, requesting a succinct update from each.
  • Status updates for each department should be 2 minutes or less.

Conduct Guidelines

  • People should call in on time and announce themselves as they join.
  • Those who are late should wait for a break then announce themselves.
  • All participants should introduce themselves by name and title or department every time they speak.
  • Everyone should put their phone or microphone on mute when they are not talking.
  • Keep interruptions to a minimum and raise your hand electronically.
  • Be courteous; don’t talk over other people.
  • Push the designated button to raise your hand and indicate your wish to speak.
  • All status updates, comments, and questions should be brief and to the point.
  • Matters that are not relevant and of general interest should be handled offline.

Crisis Call Facilitator’s Responsibilities

  • If facilitating conference calls is not in your skillset, handoff to someone who is good at it.
  • The facilitator must be able and willing to take charge of the call.
  • Establish and share the call guidelines in advance.
  • Send out the call agenda, Situation Report, and Incident Action Plan in advance.
  • Try to limit the number of participants.
  • Password protect the call if necessary.
  • Arrange for someone to take notes and/or make a recording of the call.
  • If you record the call, advise the participants and delete the recording once the minutes are confirmed to be accurate.
  • Log in five to seven minutes ahead of time.
  • Take roll by area once the meeting begins.
  • Validate that only authorized people are on the call; disconnect if not recognized.
  • Remind everyone of the rules.
  • Follow the agenda.
  • Focus on the exceptions.
  • Stop unneeded conversations.
  • Keep the call focused.
  • Conclude the call as explained below.

Concluding the Crisis Status Call

  • At the end of the call, the facilitator should give a high-level summary of the current situation, based on the reports shared during the call.
  • The facilitator should outline the three to five main action items that should be taken next.
  • The facilitator should communicate the date and time of the next meeting.

After the Call

  • After your crisis status call, the facilitator or CMT leader should produce an Incident Action Plan for the next period of operations based on the current state.
  • The facilitator or CMT leader should produce and distribute to the call participants the Incident Action Plan that lists the 3 to 5 main things that must be done over the next operational period (4 hours, 24 hours, etc.).
  •  The facilitator should send the area leaders an agenda and Incident Action Plan for the next call.


Because of COVID-19, the world is currently in a state of confusion and anxiety. However, your organization’s crisis status calls do not have to be the same way.

By implementing good procedures for handling crisis calls, you can help make the calls at your organization more productive and efficient, reducing tension, increasing clarity, and enhancing your organization’s ability to respond to the current situation.


For more information on crisis management, crisis calls, and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

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