Automating Communications

Emergencies Aren’t The Time to Plan

We don’t often think of emergency response until there is an actual emergency which is the absolute worst time to figure it out. When you’re in a crisis, you and your co-workers are less likely to think as clearly as when you aren’t. An emergency “plan” is just that, a plan. It’s your guide to getting you and your employees out of harm’s way and keep the business up and running as best as possible. The more steps you can remove from the process through automation, the better off everyone will be.

While many organizations say they have an emergency procedure  in place, there are a few problems with many plans:

1. The plan isn’t really a plan. It’s more of an idea. “If we have to evacuate, we’ll just go into the parking lot.” That’s not a well-conceived plan. An appropriate plan must be well thought out, rehearsed, and include all of the most likely scenarios, plus the flexibility to extrapolate the procedure to unexpected events. This “all-hazards” plan requires more than one person to develop, in fact, a committee of in-house and remote stakeholders who can work together to come up with a comprehensive strategy and agree on the technologies that will make it happen.

The world has changed quite a bit over the past decade, in case you haven’t noticed. There are new technologies at our disposal that we didn’t have even five years ago. A plan shouldn’t be set in stone for all of eternity. A good plan will be re-evaluated annually to determine if it is still the best method. Things change, companies grow, new locations and facilities might arise, new technologies come available. At the same time, there’s a chance you’ve had to activate your plan so you might have insight into what worked and what needs work. Every change and implementation require a second look at the strategy to see where improvements can be made.

2. The plan must be practiced. Too many organizations keep their plan under wraps where only a few people know where to find the plan or what their role in the plan actually is. Every employee, whether in-house, traveling, or working from a remote site should understand and be familiar with the emergency plan. It’s not good enough to practice a drill for a tornado or a fire alone. While these are incidents that are good to prepare for, they don’t cover all of the possible events that could warrant activating the emergency plan. Organizations must practice all possible scenarios so their employees are as prepared as they can be should one of them occur.

The topic of this blog is automation and with practice, the actions of employees can also be automated in a sense. The goal of practice is to remove as many roadblocks to a successful emergency response. Employees who aren’t sure of what to do – especially if there is an immediate crisis – will render the plan useless. Practice and repetition make perfect.

3. The plan isn’t just a list of to-dos. An emergency plan must be more concise and deliberate, with roles and responsibilities clearly mapped out and technologies in place. Organizations must designate key players while also investing in technology to make executing the plan easier. One of the best technologies available is an emergency notification system. Email and phone are no longer sufficient in reaching every employee, at least not quickly and efficiently.

Today’s employees are more mobile than ever so organizations need a system that can tap into all of the various communication channels employees are using – including SMS text, push notifications, Slack, and social media – simultaneously so the right people receive the right message at the right time. In an emergency, there are no do-overs so you need to get this one right. Your plan must be detailed enough to include all of the various moving parts but concise enough as to not confuse people with unneeded information.

4. Automating as much of the plan as possible will save lives. This might sound like an exaggerated statement but it’s true. Every second counts in an emergency so you want an emergency alert system that will remove as many manual processes as possible. An emergency notification should be able to be delivered to every employee across multiple channels simultaneously within seconds. When the software is integrated into internal systems, such as HR and employee directories, reaching every employee is simple and streamlined.

Related: Integrations Will Play A Major Role in Future Mass Notification Systems

Some emergency notification software will enable administrators to trigger a pre-defined protocol that instantly sets the plan into motion. The message can be pre-written or customized based on the threat and the recipients can be segmented based on their proximity to that threat. While automation is critical, organizations must find a solution that is flexible enough to scale and allow for customization.

The Case for Automation

Not every action can be pre-defined yet many can. The best way to figure out what can be automated and what needs a human touch is to assess your environment. This includes understanding the most-likely-to-occur events and your employees’ preferred communication channels. So, for instance, if your company operates or has employees working in the Gulf States  or the East Coast, you should consider hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, and tornadoes as events you should extensively plan for. You probably don’t need to put much thought into blizzards or landslides like those in the mountains or the West Coast . Surprisingly,  natural disasters aren’t actually the most prevalent emergencies.

The most common emergencies are ones that impact every organization no matter their physical location. The number one business emergency is IT outages, making up  50 percent of emergencies affecting companies. If your organization has been in operation longer than a few months, you probably know how destructive a lengthy IT outage can be. Websites are down, POS systems are down, and every business-critical system might be down for an undetermined amount of time. Outages can costs companies millions in lost sales and revenue. What happens then? Does every employee from the top to the customer-facing representative know how to handle things until systems are up and running again?

Beyond IT outages are equally debilitating power outages and cyber threats which can cause similar headaches that directly impact the bottom line. At least with these outages, there is no risk to life. Fires, floods (from natural causes and man-made), security-related issues, and other health and security incidents such as workplace violence, chemical spills, and gas leaks have lives in the mix, mandating immediate communication through an integrated and automated emergency alert system.

Automation in these incidents is literally the difference between life and death. Organizations who rely on an administrator to craft and send an email are putting their employees’ lives at risk because they simply take too long and often don’t reach every employee when they were intended. An automated system will ensure the platform can be activated by multiple people and reach the intended audience instantly. It will integrate all channels simultaneously so no matter where the employee is or what they are doing, they will be alerted and kept informed before, during, and after an emergency event.

How to Automate Your Emergency Notifications

Administrators can spend a little time on the front end to make sure these automated capabilities are optimized. By carefully crafting the messages that cover the most likely events to occur, much of the workload is removed ahead of time. In a matter of a couple of clicks, the emergency alert message will be sent without having to wait for a message to be hand crafted as the event is unfolding. Having a menu of messages at the administrator’s disposal dramatically reduces the amount of time required to create and deliver an appropriate message when an emergency is underway.

Automation also lays the foundation for communication with internal key players and external third parties, such as first responders. Those inside the organization who will play critical roles in administering the emergency plan and seeing it through to the activation of the business continuity plan must be mobilized. They must have access to the automated system as well as be able to communicate with each other in real time through two-way dialogue – no matter where they are located. In fact, it is in the organization’s best interest to identify remote stakeholders who can make decisions in case on-site leaders are incapable of doing so. Automating the communication is so important as these are the people who will be making the decisions and will depend on accurate information.

Part of any organization’s emergency plan must be to establish a relationship with nearby first responders. How will they be contacted? Who will be in charge of communicating with them during the incident? How will they send and receive ground-level feedback? All of these questions must be considered before a plan is ever executed “for real” and many of the tasks required can be automated.

Bringing Your Emergency Alert System into The 21st Century with Automation

It’s not difficult to automate your emergency notification system – you simply need to start with modern technology. The more you can do before the emergency, the less risk for loss of life, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Find a solution that will grow with your organization. Choose a tool that will integrate technologies so you can automate as many tasks as possible. Finally, determine how your employees will best receive instant notifications and then select software that will be able to incorporate all channels into the solution. Keep in mind that technology changes and so do people’s communication preferences. Investing in a flexible and scalable emergency notification system will give you the best bang for your buck.