Within the past few years, technology has allowed for an increasing number of companies to automate emergency preparedness and response processes. However, in an era of instantaneous information, effective communications is still one of the greatest logistical problems during an emergency.
Without clear and effective communications, first responders may:
- respond to the wrong location
- be unable to effectively coordinate resources
- misunderstand the severity of a situation
- be ill-equipped for the actual situation
- find themselves in danger for which they are unprepared
Advanced technology for emergency preparedness and response has included everything from gas-leak sensors and drones, to social media integration and sophisticated emergency management software. The ability to automate a myriad of emergency response activities, including expediting communications with local first responders, safety officials, and those affected by an incident enables companies to potentially minimize the impacts of an emergency on individuals, facilities, and the community.
Through pre-planning, a communication plan can be fully integrated into the overall response plan. Companies must be certain that response plans are accessible in a variety of formats in order for necessary process and procedures to be implemented. If the plan is not accessible, prepared information cannot be conveyed and responses may be inadequate. Best practices should be continual reviewed in order to improve optimal communication methods for each scenario. Communication pre-planning should include, but is not limited to, the following:
1. Notification and Activation methods: Meet with employees and responders to discuss notification and activation methods. Do not assume that responders identify with current company communication policies, context of emergencies communications, or the crisis communication plan. Ensure employees are aware of applicable alarms, muster requirements, implications of various situations, and response expectations. Through communication, employees can comprehend the safety measures necessary to limit exposures and prevent unnecessary harm. With company-approved protocols in place, engaging in social media for emergency communications can allow for:
- Speed: Direct communication between informants and those who need information enables responders to react faster, minimizing the duration of the emergency.
- Relevance: Disseminate the right message to the right audience
- Accuracy: Ensure information is correct, confirmed by company sources, and backed up by facts or direct observation. Multiple informants can confirm accuracy or inaccuracies.
2. Contact Verifications: Primary and secondary contact information should be verified for personnel, responsible agencies, and contracted responders. Verification should be conducted on a periodic basis in order to maintain accurate and applicable information. Communication equipment, such as hand held radios and satellite phones, should be functionally tested periodically, to ensure they are available when necessary.
3. Strategic Considerations: Emergency managers should establish a strategic response planning framework, with checklists and response criteria that will guide the communications decision-making process to allow for an effective response. Communications should:
- Identify internal and external methods and procedures
- Confirm emergency contact information
- Identify multiple forms of communication methods (text, e-mail, cell phones)
4. Stabilization: Effective communications is the bridge to stabilizing an emergency situation. The stabilization phase may include media/public relations and a crisis communication plan. In this 24/7 information age, a communications plan should include informational jurisdiction decisions about what to release, by whom, and when. Information MUST be accurate and timely in order to diffuse rumors.
Unfortunately, during the height of an incident, bleak realities and raw emotion may alter communication agreements and promote misinformation. Avoid public power struggles and confusion by establishing a clear and exercised understanding of communication responsibilities before a situation occurs.
5. Recovery: The lines of communications need to remain open to return to a “business as usual” level. In order for a full recovery, communication should include:
- Accurate damage assessment reports
- Response personnel reports
- Demobilization techniques
- Employee reentry procedures
- Lessons learned debriefings
Be prepared for your next incident, download TRP Corp's free white paper, "A Step-by-Step Guide: Be Prepared for Your Next Incident".