Why so many emergency communication plans fail

When Was the Last Time You Practiced Your Plan?

Plenty of companies have some sort of emergency plan in place and even a few of those practice the plan on a regular basis with their employees. Yet, nearly 60 percent of American adults say they have never practiced what to do in a disaster at work, school, or home in the past year.

Even those companies who do have a plan in place often find their plan was completely insufficient in the event of an actual emergency. What is the problem? We all know it’s important but we mostly believe it won’t happen to us and if it did, we’d know what to do. That simply is not the case. As we’ve all been warned, “it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”

Critical events come in all forms: fire, natural disasters, power outages, IT outages, hazardous chemical spills, terrorism, work and school shootings, hostage situations, bomb threats, and structural failures. Did I leave anything out? Likely so. I list these not to scare, but to illustrate how many things could go wrong and why it’s so critical to have an emergency notification system in place, practiced, and understood.

Communicating via an Emergency Notification System

The first thing we think of when we think of an emergency is communication. How are we going to communicate, to find out what to do and where to go, to get in touch with others? Communication is the backbone of any notification or alert system yet it’s usually the first thing to break down during a crisis. Without proper communication, there is chaos and panic – the two things you never want during a critical event.

The larger the company, the bigger the problem and the harder it can be to communicate with every employee, particularly if the employees are geographically dispersed. A mass communications system is critical to ensuring every employee, near and far, gets the right information at the right time on the right device. We are an increasingly mobile culture and communications have changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. Any emergency plan should be updated to include the latest communication channels employees are likely using.

5 Reasons Why Emergency Communications Plans Fail

Even if your company has an emergency notification plan in place, there’s a good chance it’s not going to live up to the hype when the worst happens. Here are 5 reasons why so many emergency communications plan fail.

  1. Backward vs forward thinking. Many emergency plans are created with past events in mind instead of all the things that could happen. History is a great teacher and hindsight is 20/20, but if you want to keep your employees safe, you have to think ahead as well. It’s far better to have a worse-case plan in place and never need it than not have planned at all for what might happen.
  2. Too complex and incident-specific. While emergency plans should be detailed, communications can get complicated quickly, especially if the plan is different for every possible incident. The best communications plans should be concise for “all hazards,” generalizing the process in case of any emergency.
  3. One-way communication from the top down. Executives and leaders should set the direction of the communication plan, but all decisions do not necessarily need to come from the top and trickle down. You need insight from the people on the ground who are in the trenches when emergencies happen. Their input can be invaluable during a critical event. They should also be able to make decisions without waiting for approvals from execs in a different location. In a crisis, time is of the essence. Designate employees throughout the organization to make key decisions and give them the ability to rapidly communicate with others.
  4. No planning with third parties. During a critical event, your communication will often involve first responders, hospitals, and other trained experts. Companies should engage with these professionals ahead of time to ensure all parties are on the same page should an emergency arise. Be sure they provide input on your plan, such as the best way to contact them in case of an emergency or if there is a power outage.
  5. The wrong or no technology. Technology has evolved quite a bit in the past decade, let alone when many emergency plans were created. Companies must leverage technology to enable collaboration and communication between employees and emergency personnel in real time. Mass communication technology is the best way to get your message out on the most channels to the most employees.

No emergency plan is perfect. There are too many unknowns and situations we could never plan for, as hard as we try. The key is to have a plan that is scalable and flexible enough to encompass just about anything. Technology is the answer for the majority of the five problems listed above by providing real-time, two-way communication across multiple channels.

Take the time to review your plan. See if it falls victim to any of the above pitfalls. If so, it’s time for an overhaul. Then practice, practice, practice. It will give you and your employees peace of mind.