As a guide, I advise my clients on the 15/60 rule. That means in a crisis, the organisation should acknowledge the crisis within 15 mins of it occurring, and follow up with a press/ news release 60 mins after that.
The usual response from clients is that this is impossible as it takes time to gather the facts and craft the statements. I agree. I however also remind clients that stakeholders are reasonable people and that at the 15 min mark, they do not expect complete answers. Essentially, as a crisis unfolds, stakeholders want to know basic information like (a) the facts of the case (i.e. WHAT has happened, WHEN and WHERE did it happen and WHO is involved); (b) your immediate actions; and (c) your next step or what affected stakeholders can do. In the event that you do not have all the facts, it is appropriate to say so. The key point is that you must appear sincere with the facts.
Having said that, the question still remains whether it is possible for an organisation to acknowledge an incident within 15 mins. To me, the answer is yes and the solution is through preparation and practice. Preparation is about having the necessary templates and “drawer” plans on hand so that when an incident occurs, it is simply a matter of referring to them, adjusting it and issuing it. As for practice, it means having regular drills where all members in the crisis management team is well versed in their respective roles.
In summary, crisis communications is not something you think about when it happens. To be effective, crisis communications is a deliberate process where an organisation prepares for it.