Which Communication Channels Should You Use During An Emergency?
When was the last time you surveyed your employees to learn which communication channels and devices they most use?
If those that are old enough, you probably remember a time when emergency notifications at work were fire alarms, overhead speaker alerts, and possibly a phone call with an automated message. These are also the days when most of us drove to work, stayed at the same desk at the same location for eight hours, then drove home. How many of us still can say we follow this same nine to five, predictable schedule?
The truth is, few of us work that way anymore. We are mobile. We work at the coffee shop, in the car, at the airport, from the hotel, in the office, and at home. We travel from facility to facility, client to client, office to office. Our mobile devices help us do more wherever we are. Of course, there are plenty of us who work in offices, factories, warehouses, and facilities. Lots of us still use desktop computers all day long while others rely on two-way radios. But the “norm” is no longer the norm.
The point is we are highly diverse – in how we work, where we work, and the devices we use. All of this matters greatly when discerning how best to communicate with a broad range of employees, particularly during an emergency. A mass communication system, emergency alert system, or emergency communications system – whatever you want to call it – is meant to do one thing: connect the enterprise with their employees across multiple communication channels.
For companies with a heterogeneous workforce, one or two channels simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. There are too many variables. Employees expect and deserve that when they are executing the job they are paid to perform, they will be kept safe and informed by their employer. They aren’t concerned with how it will happen, just that it will. They don’t care if they are in an airport in Taiwan or a loading dock in Oklahoma. They want to know that if an emergency arises or a significant event occurs, they won’t be the last to know.
In a CareerBuilder survey, more than one in five workers (22 percent) say they would not know what to do to protect themselves if there was an emergency in their office that posed a physical threat. Here are additional interesting findings:
- 19% do not feel their workplaces are well-protected in case of a fire, flood, or other disaster
- 33% don’t believe their companies have emergency plans in place should such events occur
- 20% do not feel their workplaces are well-protected from weather-related threats
- 38% do not think their companies have an emergency plan in place if they were ever faced with extremely severe weather
- 30% do not feel their workplace is well-protected from a physical threat from another person
- 50% do not believe their company has an emergency plan in place in case of a physical attack from another person
- 36% do not feel their workplaces are well-protected from a digital hacking threat
- 50% do not feel their companies have an emergency plan in place in the event of a technology security breach
How does an organization ensure every employee is kept safe and informed? They invest in a multi-modal communication system they can customize to their own employee and organizational needs. This means whatever communication channels its employees use, no matter how many, the system can send, and in some cases receive, messages across them. Even better, they can communicate across these channels simultaneously.
Every company is different and has different technologies in place for communicating with employees. Some may only use desktop computers, mobile devices, and phones. While you may count these as three channels, they actually each represent multiple possible channels.
For instance, a desktop computer would provide an organization the opportunity to send messages through email, social media, intranet sites, pop-up alerts, instant messaging, and collaboration applications, such as Slack. For mobile devices, there may be similar functionality as desktop computers, with access to email, social media, intranet sites, collaboration apps, and instant messaging. Added to this, however, are voice call, SMS texting, and app push notifications.
Phones today are much more advanced than in the past. Whether it’s a landline or a mobile phone, users can often read messages instead of dialing in, inputting a password, and listening to a voicemail. Voice transcription makes it much faster to see and read your messages. They can also be programmed to ring multiple phone numbers at once or in sequence so if a desk phone doesn’t get answered within two rings, the employee’s mobile phone will automatically be called, then a home number.
All of these channels are viable and should be included in a comprehensive communication strategy. But wait. There’s more!
Many organizations still rely on pagers, such as hospitals and health care facilities. Two-way radios are popular amongst shift workers and fleet drivers. Fire alarms and intercoms can be included to sound when there is an emergency at a facility. Dispatchers can also be included to send warnings through a closed radio system.
All of this is to prove one thing: emergency communications is plural. Effective warnings now require an all-modes approach. If yours doesn’t, it’s time to take a critical look at your current system and compare it to what your employees – all employees – use to communicate. As I said previously, not all organizations are the same. It’s worth it to your employees to consider each one of them, their device(s) or channel(s) of choice, and whether your current system has the flexibility and capacity to include all of them.
Once you know which channels must be integrated into your system, you must practice. An emergency isn’t the time to see if your system works. It’s not good enough to know your system will send messages. It’s critical to see if it can send messages:
- simultaneously across ALL specified channels
- to all specified devices
- within in seconds
- to every specified employee
If your communication system is stuck in past decades and you have employees who are at risk for not getting the message in a timely manner, you need to reconsider your software. It may surprise you to know that the best systems aren’t always the most complicated, expensive, or difficult to integrate with existing internal business systems. Today’s software is remarkably easy to implement. That’s the good news. The bad news is that not all software is created equal, so you’ll need to do your homework.
Here’s a great resource to help you know what to look for when you’re evaluating an emergency notification system. It highlights the 14 key features you’ll want to be sure are included. Assess your current environment and employee culture, then find a solution that will scale to your specific needs. Use your mass notification system for emergencies, of course, but extend it to any internal communications that need to reach employees quickly and reliably. It’s the software that keeps on giving (a.k.a. ROI).