There are two types of companies in the world – those that have had a crisis and those that will. No industry is immune.

Crises come in all shapes and sizes, from natural disasters that could bring your operation to a screeching halt to criminal acts to workplace violence to data breaches. Bankruptcies, major lawsuits and other incidents may also potentially destroy your reputation or cripple your small business.

“A crisis is not just bad news. Every brand will face bad news. A crisis is when something occurs that keeps you from handling your regular business in a normal fashion,” says Vince McMorrow, vice president of public relations for RMD Advertising in New Albany, Ohio. “A crisis is an event that has the potential to cause great harm to your organization.”

Of course, PR pros say you can’t wait until there is a fire to get your fire hose ready. Just as you plan for future growth, you should also plan for a crisis. That’s because making decisions in chaos could lead to rushed judgments, a public perception that your company is hiding from the truth, or executives who appear inept at handling corporate affairs.

“In the midst of a crisis, a crisis communications plan is invaluable,” says Denyse Dabrowski, vice president of The Marcus Group, Inc. a Secaucus, N.J.-based public relations firm. “When I say ‘plan’ I do not mean a 30-page book your company puts together about its crisis response, because, quite frankly, that’s out of date before it hits the shelf. I’m talking about the plan as far as who is part of the crisis team and what everyone’s duties are.”

PR pros agree that while not every crisis can be avoided, increased knowledge, preparation and proper training can help a company put the events that do occur under immediate control, and keep them under control as the issue is addressed.

Stay tuned for practical tips in part two in this series.