7 Best Practices for Building an Emergency Communications Plan
Preparing for an emergency requires a strong emergency communications plan. Learn how to respond with confidence when a critical event arises.
When a critical event arises, you must be able to respond immediately with confidence. It only takes a few seconds for an emergency to occur, and if you aren’t able to respond quickly, things can get out of control, and your people will be put at risk.
An American lumber company experienced this firsthand when a fire broke out in their Madras, Oregon plant. It only took a few stray sparks to put the entire factory, and the 20-30 workers inside, in harm’s way. If there had been even a minute’s delay in communication, the plant full of flammable lumber may have faced an extreme catastrophe.
Luckily, the company was prepared. They were able to immediately notify employees to evacuate and call the fire department to extinguish the flames. But their communication planning didn’t stop there. The company was also able to call a recent truck that had departed the factory to have it return and checked for stray hot embers in the shipment of bark dust.
This company had a plan that helped them communicate critical information during a crisis. And while your business may not face the same sorts of emergencies as a lumber plant fire, you need to know how to communicate effectively so that your employees know what is going on and how to respond. An emergency communications plan is how you do that.
What Is an Emergency Communications Plan?
An emergency communication plan is a strategic, step-by-step plan for your business that lays out when, how, and with whom you will communicate when an emergency occurs. This plan should coverall the different communication channels and who is in charge of sending messages. The plan should be broad enough to apply to most emergency situations but specific enough for everyone to follow clearly.
When a crisis hits, you will go through your emergency communications plan and have all the information you need to reach your employees and key stakeholders: contact information, addresses, emergency contacts/family members’ phone numbers, and any additional information that will help you keep them safe.
A well-thought-out, simple business emergency communications plan—with room for flexibility—is a key asset in incident response and business continuity. Use these best practices when you are building out your plan.
How To Build an Emergency Preparedness Communications Plan
1. Form an emergency communications team
Depending on the size of your organization, you’ll want to make sure you have someone, or a team of people, dedicated to managing your communication strategy, emergency response, info dissemination, and after-event briefing and analysis. Assign people to specific roles so there is no confusion as to what they should be doing. Here are a few examples:
- Group Admins—these people would be in charge of messaging their specific groups of employees
- Emergency Responders—these people would be in charge of responding to the emergency at hand and relaying information to relevant groups
- Information Officers—these people would be responsible for distributing information to admins and/or updating an event page
- Spokespersons—these people would be responsible for communicating with the public or news media about the event
If your organization is small, assign someone specifically to emergency preparedness and communications. If your organization is large, make sure that someone who is part of a broader incident management team is dedicated to planning and carrying out emergency communications.
2. Invest in emergency communication technology
In order to keep your organization and employees safe, you will need to make sure that the right information gets to the right people. The best way to do this is to incorporate an emergency mass notification software into your strategy. Mass notification systems enable you to efficiently distribute important information to all parties involved or affected by the event. Make sure that your emergency communication system supports two-way messaging—so that your employees can respond to any messages you send, allowing you to account for your people during and after an emergency. Your emergency notification plan is key to coordinating a thorough emergency communications plan.
3. Implement a threat monitoring system
The ability to monitor a threat as it emerges is critical to creating an effective emergency communication plan. It also allows your organization to take a proactive approach to employee safety.
A threat monitoring system, like AlertMedia’s, uses real-time data from thousands of trusted sources like government officials, national agencies such as FEMA, social media, and media outlets. Additionally, analysts around the globe provide you with relevant information on all different types of current threats—from hurricanes and wildfires to political upheaval and transportation disruptions. Best of all, a threat monitoring system will proactively warn you if a threat emerges that could impact your people or locations.
4. Coordinate your crisis communication plan
Coordinate with everyone who needs to be involved in your crisis/emergency communication plan. This includes management, as well as anyone responsible for the safety and continuity of your organization’s operations. Review plans with your incident management team or seek help from a business continuity consultant.
Every individual that will be involved needs to know what their role is and what will be expected of them. Similarly, it’s important that the people involved in implementing the plan know what to expect—plans should be reviewed, updated frequently, and executed in regular drills. This will not only ensure that your organization is prepared for an emergency but also that your employee contact data is accurate.
5. Reach your people through all communication channels
To deploy fast, secure notifications en masse, your organization needs modern technology to do so. An emergency notification system empowers your organization to keep everyone connected during critical events. From anywhere and on any device, you can access the system and reach your people over any channel: text, email, phone call via cell phone or landline, social media, and even custom channels like Slack. Above all, your system must be flexible so that your team has the ability to adapt and respond to events as they evolve—using the technology to keep your people updated as events unfold and get resolved. It’s also important to remember that all businesses are unique—an emergency for one business might not be a concern at another organization. Be sure to establish guidelines for what constitutes an emergency for your organization and when to execute your response plan.
6. Understand your people
Know your stakeholders. Communicating relevant, correct information before, during, and after an incident to the applicable stakeholders is paramount in your emergency management plan. In an emergency, different people need different messages. One-size-fits-all messaging simply doesn’t cut it in a crisis situation.
Instead, you need custom communication for your security team, remote employees, C-level executives, and your company at large. For example, following a network cyberattack, you should provide your cybersecurity team with specific information about the attack. This will help them mitigate the risk of data loss and get your network back up and running quickly. You’ll also need to send out notifications to your company as a whole about the event with information like what systems were compromised, what information was at risk, what systems like email or internet are down, and whether they will need to change any login credentials.
In addition, you can use your emergency notification system to create hierarchies and group people based on role, department, location, employee shift, and any other criteria that matter to your organization. This means you will have quick access to notifying the affected audience at the correct time if an incident arises.
7. Script messages ahead of time
Crafting effective emergency communication templates should play a key role in your emergency communications planning. Think through how you should be communicating particular incidents to specific audiences over the different communication mediums: text, email, voice, etc. Each incident will affect your personnel in different ways. So it’s important to take that into consideration when putting together your scripts. Above all, keep them short, clear, and easy to understand. Focus your message on relevant content and cater it to each audience.
Here is an example of a few notification templates for different emergencies.
Text message alert for an outage:
IMPORTANT: A [POWER/NETWORK] outage has occurred at [LOCATION]. Our team is working on resolving it as quickly as possible. For the latest updates and additional resources, visit our event page.
A fire drill will be conducted for all personnel in the [LOCATION] office on [DATE] at approximately [TIME]. Remain calm.This is only a drill.
Upon hearing the fire alarm, please exit the building quickly and calmly, avoid elevators, stay back from entrances once outside, and proceed to the designated assembly area. The entire drill should last approximately 30 minutes. Thank you for your cooperation and participation in this important safety matter. Contact [CONTACT NAME AND PHONE] with any questions or concerns.
Build these templates for all the different kinds of emergencies your business may face, so you can quickly send them when the time comes.
Building and coordinating a strong emergency communications plan and partnering with the proper mass notification provider will prepare your organization to communicate effectively during any incident and ensure the protection of your teams.