Develop a Hurricane Communications Plan to Prepare and Protect
Before a hurricane hits, it’s important to prepare in advance and develop a hurricane communication plan that your entire organization can depend on.
Are your employees and business ready to face the oncoming storms? Now is the time to get your emergency preparedness together. The Atlantic hurricane season is underway, and while NOAA’s forecasts for 2023 are not as severe as in past years, you don’t want one bad storm to catch you off guard.
As you think about preparing your business for a hurricane, you want to keep organizational communication top of mind. With a reliable way to reach your employees during a natural disaster, you can mitigate losses and improve safety outcomes. This post breaks down what to consider in your plan and how to implement it to improve connectivity rather than introduce new communication hurdles.
Implement a Communications System
As organizations conceive their hurricane preparedness and response plans, it’s vital to business continuity and employee engagement that communications are concise and streamlined on all fronts. Whether an organization needs to reach out to 100 people or 100,000, activating a quick, modern, and reliable communication system will help keep their people safe, informed, and prepared when the weather turns.
The right mass communication solution is an important piece of your hurricane communication plan. It will allow you to check on your employees, let them know when they can return to work, and give them specific instructions regarding their job duties. Choose one that is intuitive and easy to use for all users. In today’s mobile world, making sure the system provides multi-channel and two-way communication is vital—particularly when power and cellular service may be disrupted in a hurricane.
- SMS text messages – perfect for quick communications
- Mobile app push notifications – ideal for emergency notifications that don’t require a response
- Phone/voicemail – use for more detailed information with a callback number
- Email – optimal when there is a lot of information, links, or attachments
- Intranet – use Event Pages to keep incident-related information on one page
- Custom channels – Fitting for organizations with non-traditional forms of communication
Being able to communicate across multiple channels simultaneously or individually ensures every employee receives the message on their preferred device, no matter what external forces are at play. Deliverability rates increase, allowing end-users to respond and react immediately per instructions.
Maintain Your Employee’s Contact Information
Communication is challenging when employee contact data is inaccurate or outdated. A detailed hurricane communication plan will require that an organization gather, store, and update a large amount of contact data for those who will need to receive hurricane information. It is imperative that each user’s name, email address, cell phone number, direct office number, and office location are maintained and updated with any changes. There are multiple ways companies can ensure their communication system is updated with the correct data:
- Upload an up-to-date CSV file
- Manage/refresh your Active Directory sync
- Leverage an API to sync with your HR system
- Send a registration link to all of your people so they can update their own data
Inform the Right People at the Right Time
In the event of a hurricane, organizations need to quickly identify the right audience for their messages. Hurricane communications should be sent to appropriate people or groups, including remote and lone workers, based on their proximity to the affected areas. For example, if there is a hurricane in Miami, administrators need to ensure only employees in or around Miami receive these critical messages.
Administrators should take the time beforehand to group together individuals based on their office location to better deploy location-based notifications. You can use grouping in many different scenarios, but leveraging location services during a hurricane is key to getting the relevant message to the right people quickly.
Monitor for Threats
Modern technology allows meteorologists to track potential hurricanes even when they are just tropical storms brewing in the Atlantic. Early in the storms’ development, they are not likely to make the news. Most of the time, hurricanes only start to make headlines when they are a few days out from landfall. As an organization, however, you need to have approaching storms on your radar much earlier, so that you can start to make the necessary preparations.
This is where global threat intelligence comes in. Threat intelligence systems like AlertMedia aggregate threat data from trusted sources around the world and proactively alert you when a threat is emerging that could impact your people or assets. Using a solution like this allows you to get a head start on your planning for an approaching storm and ensures that nothing blindsides you.
Have a Set Hurricane Communication Plan
According to FEMA, nearly 40 percent of small businesses that close due to hurricanes and other weather-related damage never reopen. No small business wants to be part of that statistic. And while large companies are more likely to survive a hurricane, they are also more likely to be impacted—since large organizations typically have multiple locations and far-reaching supply chains. To mitigate a hurricane’s impact, organizations large and small need to prepare ahead of time for hurricane season. A hurricane preparedness checklist and plan should be in place before a hurricane hits.
With a modern mass communications tool, organizations can get ahead of the storms and better execute their hurricane communication plan by:
- Distributing company expectations for crisis communications
- Providing guidance and instruction to employees
- Empowering those involved to communicate from anywhere at any time
Having a clear and organized plan will eliminate chaos and help keep people safe.
Create Event Pages and Notification Templates
Event templates enable organizations to add event details and upload resources to one web-page. This event page becomes the hub for the most up-to-date information on the hurricane. Instead of sending out a mass notification with each non-essential update, you can simply direct employees to the event page. Helpful items to include on an event page include photos of office or location damages, available resources, escape and evacuation routes, facilities with gas and water, and information for after the hurricane (such as office re-openings).
As admins craft their event page(s) around hurricane season, it is important to also draft hurricane notification templates around all possible outcomes, so organizations are one click away from warning and advising their people. In critical situations, organizations can then deploy immediate notifications that will elicit helpful responses. Common types are:
- Surveys that encourage audience engagement by asking, “Are you okay?”
- Notifications updating current status
- Notifications with read confirmations communicating office closures, remote access, or power outages
- Impromptu conference calls that allow key stakeholders to get on the same page
Executing a Hurricane Communication Plan: Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center
As Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas coast in August 2017, many businesses started to scramble. Many did not have their hurricane emergency communication plans in order. Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, though, knew they already had a plan. For the past year, they had been developing a hurricane communication plan and testing it using AlertMedia, their mass communication system. So, when Hurricane Harvey hit, they simply had to execute.
Maintaining business continuity throughout the hurricane was critically important for Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center. Its headquarters in Houston serves the Texas Gulf Coast region as well as the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world, with timely deliveries of blood. There’s always a need for blood at hospitals that use blood products daily. But that need is never more pronounced than in the throes of a life-impacting crisis. During Hurricane Harvey, the Blood Center’s services were more important than ever.
Their first step was to use AlertMedia’s conference call feature, to immediately connect key stakeholders to discuss necessary plans and procedures. Then, the Blood Center used status updates to connect with and account for all their team members. Based on their responses, they were able to coordinate scheduling, determine who had the all-clear to come into work, and identify who might need assistance.
Thanks to uninterrupted communications, the Blood Center was able to coordinate plans for continued blood delivery to hospitals. They were also able to inform staff of canceled drives and when they’d reopen. With facilities spanning the Gulf Coast Region, AlertMedia played a vital role in keeping the entire center operational during Hurricane Harvey. Beyond helping the Blood Center navigate one of the costliest disasters in U.S. history, AlertMedia has proved to be an invaluable ongoing resource.
Crafting Your Plan
It can feel overwhelming to start a hurricane communication plan from scratch. Start by finding modern a mass communication system that fits the needs of your organization. Then upload communication templates and discuss with key stakeholders what procedures make the most sense for your company. Even if you don’t plan out every contingency, having templates ready, along with a general plan, will go a long way when a hurricane does threaten business continuity.
Hurricanes bring a lot of uncertainty to the table. You can have peace of mind, however, knowing you have a hurricane communication plan that can be activated at a moment’s notice.