4 ways to shore up your disaster communications

From mitigating the impact of crises before they happen, to planning, practicing and preparing for the worst, be ready to communicate clearly when an emergency strikes.


Most Americans aren’t prepared to handle emergencies.

Sixty percent of Americans haven’t practiced for disasters, and only 39 percent have developed an emergency plan. Far too many organizations are unprepared as well.

Organizations can save a lot of trouble—and possibly lives—by getting serious about disaster planning and business continuity. It goes beyond developing policies and procedures. It starts with prevention.

Here are four things communicators can do to improve disaster preparation:

1. Do your part to prevent disasters from happening.

You can’t stop an act of nature, but you can do your part to mitigate potential issues. Here are some ideas:

  • Go green. By minimizing your environmental impact, your organization can save money, engage eco-conscious workers and do its part to help the environment we all share. Green initiatives are good for recruiting, too.
  • Include green causes in your employee giving activities with matches to show how you’re helping the planet. You can highlight these giving opportunities for public relations purposes. For example, organizations like Anheuser-Busch are using it as a differentiator as they compete for consumers.
  • Volunteer and consider investing in helping your community plan for crises. Some cities have introduced infrastructure initiatives to prevent major problems. In London, for example, massive barriers to prevent flooding have been installed in the Thames. Again, include these efforts in your PR and internal communication.
  • Consider the worst-case scenario and plan accordingly. For example, Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant survived an earthquake in 2011, but the tsunami and power outages that accompanied the disaster were crippling. For a more recent example stateside, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, had to contend with severe flooding and power outages that made their chemicals too warm and unstable, which caused fires and some evacuations.
  • Communicate early and often. Let your employees know what you’re planning for and what your plans consist of.

2. Plan and prepare.

Consider every group your organization interacts with: employees, suppliers (including contractors), customers, partners and the community. Delegate responsibility for communicating with each group, and make sure everyone knows his or her specific communication responsibility.

To create processes, policies and procedures needed to manage expectations, try the following:

  • Create an emergency task force made up of people across your organization. Hold recurring meetings to ensure everyone understands what to do before, during and after an emergency.
  • Join other organizations in your area that handle emergency procedures to find out what the city and state plan to do, and how you can get updated information. Organizations like FEMA and NEMA can help.
  • Sponsor and provide information at emergency preparedness fairs for the community.
  • Keep up with emergency supplies and let your colleagues know where everything is located.
  • Educate employees on how to stay safe at home. Include this information on your intranet and or other internal channels.
  • Educate employees on how to stay safe at work , including evacuation procedures.
  • Establish business continuity plans. After Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in 2012, many businesses never recovered and were forced to close. Do you have a plan in place to stay afloat if your workforce is dispersed for a long period of time?
  • If a crisis occurs, get your marketing and PR teams to communicate with customers and partners so they know what to expect from your organization.
  • Communicate with employees and the community at large about what you’re doing to keep safe.
  • Have contact information available on various channels. When an emergency happens, it should be easy for managers and employees to stay in touch.

3. Practice is essential.

Practice makes perfect, right?

Before a disaster hits, set up a testing schedule and ensure employees know what’s expected of them.

  • Follow various guidelines using state and local standards, including OSHA, for how often to hold drills, including fire drills.
  • Hold drills for communications employees on power outages and security issues. Identify who is responsible for updating which channels.
  • Test equipment like fire alarms and your intranet to ensure they’re ready for emergencies.
  • Use online exams to determine whether people know what to do and where to go for more information.
  • Test communication chains to ensure everyone is able to connect.

Treat each drill as a project, reviewing the successes and failures.

4. Measure results and improve.

Provide metrics on your intranet to let everyone know how prepared your organization is. Set goals and let people know where the organization needs to be to increase everyone’s safety. Also, provide qualitative information regularly through your organization’s news.

Communicate often about what’s happening for everyone’s safety.

Disasters are an unfortunate fact of life, but preparation—and great communication—can save lives and help businesses survive a chaotic time.

A version of this post first ran on the ElevatePoint blog. Learn more about ElevatePoint here.

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