What's the Best Way to Communicate Following Disaster?

MARCH 26TH, 2014

This article originally appeared on Windows IT Pro.  One surprisingly interesting hurdle businesses might face when it comes to backup and disaster recovery is simple communication. Emergencies do happen, but let’s face it, they don’t happen terribly often. Just like writing cursive or speaking a foreign language, if you don’t do it on a regular basis, you’ll forget it. This is why it’s important to practice things you hope to remember, or at very least, write anything down you might need. When it comes to critical procedures like those in a backup and disaster recovery plan, it’s useful to test them periodically to make sure clients (and you) know what needs to happen. At very least, you and your employees should establish communication expectations for various scenarios so that everybody knows what’s going on and what needs to happen after an event occurs. Business leaders might have some thoughts in mind when it comes to disaster plans, but it might fall in an IT admin or MPS’s lap to make sure employees know what to expect. Some businesses, however, have never considered what should happen if there’s a large emergency. Should employees work from home? Who should they call? Will the company email them or call them to tell them what’s going to happen or will they need to look for an update on a Facebook page? These are all questions an IT admin or MSP might be asked to help answer. Here are some common ways of communicating after disaster. These should help a business decide the best way to communicate in an emergency. 1.       Social Media Following Hurricane Sandy, many people used social media to update friends and family of their whereabouts and to let them know they were safe. Similarly, businesses can use social media to share what’s happening in an emergency. You can update your business’s Facebook profile to explain that employees should stay home or that they should be cautious coming into work. Some emergencies won’t affect the employee’s area, but it might affect the location of the business itself. In any case, social media is a great communication vehicle. For some additional advice on using social media for disaster communications, check out this great post by Recovery Zone writer Robyn Weisman. 2.       Email Depending on the size of business and the type of email communication systems set up, it can be pretty easy to send an email to all employees. In any case, email is a great way to alert employees of a problem at the office, or what they should expect after a disaster scenario. One thing to think about, however, is that some people don’t check their work email very often at home. It’s useful to have alternate personal email addresses for all employees and include them in a larger list to use in emergencies. Those that don’t check work email at home might check personal email over breakfast or before they head to work for the day. 3.       Text Messages Email can be effective, but text messages might be more likely to be read before an employee leaves to head for the office. Alerting employees to be cautious on a drive in or even to work from home during a snowstorm )like the one that hit Atlanta a few months ago) can actually save lives and thousands of dollars in damage. You can set up a system to automatically text all employee numbers in a database with an emergency message so that the information lands right on the phone in a purse or pocket. 4.       Phone Calls This one is more difficult to pull off, especially with a high volume of employees, though phone calls tend to have more weight than a text or email, and might be a better indicator to employees that there’s a problem—texts and emails are very easy to ignore.  Again, there are ways of automating a large number of phone calls, but how much time will it take to record and deliver a message to hundreds of people? Time might be something you don’t have, so consider using one of the other methods for more speed. Send Word Now When it comes to crisis communication, taking all possible angles to deliver a message is the best way to go. You don’t want your employees in jeopardy, so making sure you send out as many messages through as many channels as possible will help ensure that more people receive them and know what to do. One great way to do this is using a service called Send Word Now. Using this service, you can login online, select a list of people to send a message to, write your message, and send it to the entire contact list in a variety of ways (email, text, voicemail) all it once. If the service cannot get through to a person using, say, a text message, it will cycle to the next type of message, maybe a voicemail, until that person is reached and replies. Remember, however, that since this is a cloud service, it depends on the Internet, which you might not have in an emergency, so prepare a backup option in case this is unavailable. What if All Communications are Down? If for some reason communications are down all together—Internet, phone, cell service, etc.—you might have bigger worries than getting businesses online, but employees still need to know what to expect. When will business resume? It all depends on the scenario, but employees should know what to expect ahead of time, so you’ll want to make that clear when you’re discussing backup and disaster recovery plans with your organization. Words Count Post-disaster communication is important to not only ensuring the safety of employees, but to manage their expectations with regard to work. Be sure you, your employees, and any businesses you service know what the communication protocol is for various emergencies so that everybody knows that to expect, whether they receive a message or not.

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