Sixty-two percent of companies activate their emergency communications plans at least once over the course of a year according to a 2015 study (pdf).
Crises in the workplace can take many forms: unforeseen power or IT outages, natural disasters, even direct cyber attacks that leave your business and its users vulnerable.
And unfortunately, incidents like this are common which is why your organization needs a plan and processes in place to protect your people and assets.
Despite this, the same study found only 69 percent of organizations have emergency communications training and education. Given the risks, getting the message out to your employees quickly and efficiently is critical.
Digital Tools Connect Staff in Emergency
The rise of globalization and blended workforces has resulted in a marked increase in dispersed employees. Businesses no longer necessarily operate from a single office: you may have telecommuters, multiple sites, freelancers and staff out on the road at any given time.
Communicating during and following a disaster with all employees, regardless of their location, is now possible thanks to developments in technology. Email, SMS, social media, cloud-based intranets or website announcements can all be used to get the message out.
But when it comes to crisis communication, there is no single channel guaranteed to reach every individual.
When you adopt a step-by-step plan that utilizes multiple channels, you ensure maximum visibility.
How to Create an Emergency Communications Plan
Identifying steps for your organization to respond to an incident — as well as classifying what counts as an incident in the first place — can prove challenging.
Your plan needs to be simple enough to be executed quickly and efficiently, yet comprehensive enough to protect your organization and its staff. It needs to be clearly defined, yet flexible enough to address a variety of scenarios. Where do you start?
Step 1: Secure senior management buy-in
Your plan needs the support of those at the top level to get off the ground. Develop a case for an emergency communications strategy and ensure you have a sponsor or champion on board.
Step 2: Identify your needs
Isolate any gaps in your existing communication channels. Talk to your employees and, if possible, analyze usage data from your internal communications systems to determine what works for your business. If you find gaps, is this due to a lack of understanding and engagement from employees? Are additional tools required?
Step 3: Outline a step by step plan
Build a step by step plan of what needs to happen, who needs to be involved and informed, and what information is required. Map out the necessary lines of communication to cascade information or action points down from senior level to all employees.
Step 4: Build a contact database
Ensure your business directory is current and reviewed regularly. Create a list of essential external contacts — for example, media contacts, vendors and agencies. Determine ownership of communication channels and set out steps of the processes, assigning responsibility to key individuals involved.
Step 5: Compile and organize relevant documentation
In a crisis, no one wants to sift through multiple files, folders and storage systems for vital information.
Assemble necessary procedural information and documents, including status report templates, pre-written press releases, announcements or statements, incident log forms and staff communications. Ensure they are clearly labeled and identifiable.
Host this information centrally on a cloud-based platform, for example your company intranet, so everyone in the business has access — no matter what the situation. With an intelligent CMS, you can set reminders to review key pages regularly, and version control ensures a single version of truth.
Protect your employees by ensuring your emergency procedures are up to date.
Step 6: Test, train, review
Like any business procedure or process, you won't perfect your emergency communications plan on the first try.
Once you have a framework in place, perform a trial exercise to test it and identify any gaps. Test the technology and channels involved to determine if staff are receiving the vital information they need.
Remember, when your business faces a critical or emergency situation, employees can’t be relied upon to come to you. Push out top-level information and announcements in a way that ensures they are read. A text message notification system serves well here, as do push notifications on internal company apps. Messages on these channels can direct employees to the relevant platform for additional information on what procedures to follow.
Once you've fine tuned your emergency procedure, organize a company-wide training where employees learn their role and responsibilities during a crisis. Host all policies and procedures somewhere accessible, and ensure employees read and understand them.
If you have functionality on your document management system or intranet for a ‘mandatory read’ or ‘read receipt,' which senior staff review and manage, use it. Set up regular reviews and refresher training for employees to keep everyone compliant with the latest procedures.
While crisis communication and management is rarely a priority, the risk and cost of failing to prepare is something no business wants to face.