We Will Always Need Crisis Communications

Carl Weinschenk
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The sad truth, which was driven home again last week in Orlando, is that disasters happen with a fair amount of regularity. Whether manmade or natural, they have many things in common. One of the most important is that limiting human and business damage depends upon the quality of communications as the situation unfolds.

Two overlapping concerns are the need to have a robust communications infrastructure and a solid plan on how communications will be conducted. Earlier this month, the firm RockDove Solutions looked at the role of mobility in a crisis communications plan. More than half of companies, 55 percent, use emergency communications software. How to incorporate mobility into the plan, of course, is based on many unique elements. The crux of the piece is simply to get beyond the era of three-ringed binders. A secondary point is that mobile apps are a vital tool.

An important footnote in any discussion of emergency communications and mobility is that mobile networks often go down during emergencies. This problem may be receding as networks become more robust and the telecom industry and regulators come to grips with their pivotal role in such situations. Still, total reliance on the cellular network is not a good idea.

The value of a solid infrastructure will be diminished if an equally solid plan is not in place. InformationWeek addressed this part of the challenge. The most important step is for crisis communication to be somebody’s job. Indeed, responsibility will likely involve several people in a big organization. The point is clear, however: Somebody must take ownership of this vital task.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a source of lots of good information on how to structure crisis communications. Much of it is contained in courses offered by the Emergency Management Institute.

Making sure it works is the other key:

Once your communication plan is finalized, you have to be willing to test it. Once or twice a year, pester your employees with test messages delivered through your established process and ask the employees to respond. You need to have an idea of who is actually receiving the messages and how long it takes for them to respond before you can begin depending on a particular channel.

Part of the overall plan – a big part of what the person or people who own crisis communications must work on – is organization: Determine who needs to know what and how those messages will get delivered. AlertMedia discusses the value of groups. The commentary at the company’s site features its product. However, the overall message is general and generic enough to be of value. Groups are a way to structure and organize alerts. They can be created in a number of ways.

Of course, all employees can be given the same information in a single large group. Subgroups can include an administrative group or groups based on location, department or function. Other approaches are to create dynamic groups, custom groups, groups that get messages at different times or according to other rules, and groups that are alerted when they do something (for instance, when they use their ID card to enter a particular building).

Crises will always be with us. We know that. The important thing is to be ready to react. The first step happens before the storm: Create robust communications infrastructures, policies and procedures.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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