If you own a business, you probably have all kinds of insurance. You’ve protected your building, your equipment and, depending on your field of expertise, you might have errors and omissions, liability or other insurances as well.

But 95 percent of business owners are missing one of the most vital insurances of all. This safety net could literally prevent the ruin of your organization.

It’s a crisis communications plan.

Just as you can’t anticipate a fire or theft, you can’t possibly know when you’re going to face an accident, C-level misconduct or misuse of your product that results in a death, tragedy or other news-making disaster.

There are five must do’s for effective crisis communication. Be sure, as you draft your plan, to include all five aspects.

Be prepared: In today’s 24/7 world with around-the-clock news channels, blogs, Twitter and other on-demand media sources, you can’t afford not to be ready long before disaster strikes.

Within five minutes of the accidental death of a SeaWorld trainer, the news was being shared on Twitter, and a YouTube video of the incident was live. You do not have time to huddle up once the crisis has hit.

Listen and monitor: One of the best ways to prevent a wide-scale communications crisis is to nip it in the bud. By identifying potential problems before or immediately after they surface, often you can mitigate a great deal of the damage. Create strategic listening posts that allow you to monitor what is being said about your company, your leadership, your products and your industry. This shouldn’t just be about monitoring social media. With so much of mainstream media producing content for the Web, you need to keep a watchful eye on them as well.

Be human and be humane: It’s easy to get defensive and hide behind “no comment” or your lawyers. But when tragedy strikes, your audiences (employees, community, customers, etc.) want to see and hear from you. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to genuinely care about what happened and how it affects them. They want to hear from a real person who is being honest and forthright with them.

Overcommunicate: This is good advice in almost any situation, but it’s critical at a time of crisis. You need to be very present, you need to offer regular updates, and you need to repeat the same information in a wide variety of formats, media and, potentially, time zones. Even if you don’t have anything new to report, don’t be dormant for too long. It makes people worry and wonder.

Create community: One of the best things you can do is to create a community of supporters and fans. That way, when you’re under fire, you’ll have a legion of people who will stand with you and help you fight off the attack. With the shift to “everyone can produce content,” this becomes a vital part of your plan. You want lots of people singing your praises if you hit a bump in the road.

Unfortunately, most of you will disregard this advice and not put a crisis communications plan in place.

Even more tragic – several of you, down the road, will sorely wish that you had.

Drew McLellan is Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group and blogs at www.drewsmarketingminute.com. He can be reached by email at [email protected] © 2011 Drew McLellan