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Planning communications for emergencies

Published: July 27th, 2015 By: Robert Dutt

You’ve got a good plan to deal with emergencies that may arise. In case of the worst, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. But does your plan include the details of how your organization will communicate when things go wrong? If not, you may be missing a key part of your business continuity or disaster recovery plan.


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In the age of smartphones with cameras and ubiquitous social media, it’s more important than ever for you to have your ducks in a row when it comes to how to communicate to your employees, customers, the media, community members, and other audiences when disaster strikes.

Preparations

Your business continuity plan should already include details like creating an emergency operations centre when things go wrong at a key facility, and rerouting phone lines and Internet access to that location. That way, you’ll have the networks needed to effectively communicate when disaster strikes, as well as to do so many of the other things you’ll need to be doing.

Next, you’ll need a list of who needs to be contacted. This can be a surprisingly long list, including management, employees, customers, suppliers, partners, government officials, news media and the rest of the community, and likely many more. The list should include names, organizations, contact numbers, e-mail addresses, and the department or organization responsible for making contact.

It should be stored somewhere secure, and easily accessible even under less-than-ideal circumstances. This is something great to put on a cloud-based network share or collaboration platform, locked down to be accessible only to the appropriate people within your organization.

The message

So you know who you need to contact, and you’ve got a list with their information. You’ve put some thought into who contacts whom in a given situation (more on this later). Now it’s time to consider what you’re going to tell each audience. Not the specifics, of course, but what information will be relevant (or mandatory) to share in the event of a disaster. Essentially, this boils down to “What does this mean to me?” in almost all cases.

Management is probably the first contact that needs to be made, as they need to know what’s going on and will play a key role in disaster recovery efforts, both through communications and otherwise. Your plan should spell out what types of scenarios align with the “contact by all means necessary at any time of the day” list, and which can wait until a reasonable hour. But in all cases, execs need to be informed of what happened, any injuries or property damage, and the likely impact on the production of goods or services that will stem from the incident.

Employees should be contacted by HR, with a focus on issues like when (and where) they should report to work, how their safety concerns are being addressed, and any updates possible on any co-workers that may have been injured or otherwise impacted.

Customers and partners should be contacted by their regular sales contact, addressing any downtime that may ensue and how that will impact their orders.

Appropriate government officials (regulators and local government) should be contacted by management with details of the incident, as well as details on impacts: safety, environmental and economic.

Suppliers should be contacted by those who typically manage them, with details on when (and where) to resume delivery of supplies.

Neighboring businesses or residences need to be contacted with any information relevant to them in the situation – what happened, are there any safety or environmental concerns they need to be aware of, where to follow up if more information is required or if they have suffered losses as a result of the incident.

And finally, the news media. This is probably the part your management will dread most of all, but it must be managed transparently and with great care. Initial contact should be made by way of a press release or other broadcast communication to local media, explaining what happened, any injuries, any details on loss, as well as any details on causes of the incident and steps that will be taken to prevent a similar incident in the future that may be available. A designated spokesperson, preferably from senior management with media training and a history of media interviews, should be made available for media interviews, and be prepared on what can – and cannot – be answered or addressed at this point in time.

Prior planning prevents poor performance

A good communications plan for when things go bad shows your organization is a concerned corporate citizen, can generate goodwill with your employees and customers, and can help to prevent the kind of long-term damage that can happen to your brand and business when the “details” of an incident are revealed 140 characters at a time by third party sources with no access to firsthand information, instead of coming “straight from the horse’s mouth” in as timely and forthright a manner as possible.


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