(May 2) Preventing a terrorist attack on the food supply is an obvious first step, but having an effective communications plan in place may help a business survive the court of public opinion should an attack occur, crisis management experts said during a teleconference April 27.

Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management LLC, Monrovia, Calif., hosted the interactive teleconference. Chris McDonald, a partner in the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, Kansas City, Mo., and Craig Watz, a Kansas City, Mo.-based special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, participated as guest experts.

“You can’t pretend anymore that it can’t happen,” Bernstein said with regard to terrorism in the U.S.

Growers, shippers, retailers, wholesalers and other members of the food supply chain should assess potential vulnerabilities in their operations to determine how they might prevent and respond to crises, McDonald said.

Seeking legal advice in advance could help suppliers understand some vulnerabilities, he said.

Watz said suppliers must make their sites harder to attack by limiting access to facilities, being aware of their surroundings and learning how to recognize problems. He mentioned employee background checks, locked doors and key cards that document when people enter or exit particular areas as effective security mechanisms.

Watz also said it’s important for suppliers to get to know their local law enforcement agents before crises occur and learn how they can aid investigations.

When suppliers become suspicious that security has been compromised, they should contact law enforcement immediately.

“Time is of the essence,” Watz said, for containing problems and capturing suspects.

Managing a terrorist attack is more than minimizing the immediate risks. It also must address the business’ long-term survival, Bernstein said.

The food360° division of The Packer’s publisher, Vance Publishing Corp., Lincolnshire, Ill., organized the teleconference for food supply industry members.