Swift, accurate communication is the most important factor in successfully overcoming a crisis. While there are many articles detailing the methodology behind external communication, the art of maintaining internal communication in crisis is often overlooked.
When a crisis breaks, everyone involved in the response must be contacted quickly, as well as those who need to be made aware of the situation. There are several critical things that must be accomplished, especially in the initial stages of the crisis.
- People are contacted immediately, not an hour or more after the situation breaks.
- Valuable manpower is not tied up with call trees.
- All the right people are contacted, regardless of their location.
- Confirm that people are available to fill all response team roles.
- People quickly receive correct, up-to-date information.
- Human error is not introduced in the communications.
- There are clear instructions for what happens next.
How fast are you responding?
The faster your team assembles, the faster the response and resolution. The chaotic nature of these early assemblies contain an environment ripe for errors. During a conference call, other phones are ringing. Static and background noise distort messages. People talk over one another and clarifications aren’t always made. People join late and drop off early.
Email conference call summaries that contain critical decisions and task assignments often don’t get sent for more than 20 minutes after the call, and valuable time is wasted. Email and voicemail are roadblocks for any crisis team trying to stay on top of a complex and changing situation.
Old-fashioned call trees can keep people tied to phones for hours. When someone can’t be reached immediately, the call center must try again and again, sometimes over a period of hours. This is a particular challenge when there are no alternates for the person being contacted.
Location, location, location
You can’t expect that everyone on the crisis response team will be able to quickly assemble at a common physical location. Ideally, it wouldn’t matter where the team members or command center personnel are located. In today’s global economy, even small organizations are apt to have employees spread across different cities, states, and even countries.
During the response, the pressure is on and responsive communication becomes more important and even more of a challenge. The response often requires frequent updates to stakeholders, information from responders, and private conference calls between decision-makers. At this stage, people will rarely be in a single location.
A crisis is dynamic
Expect critical information to change, often quickly. Details must be updated frequently to ensure resources are managed properly and stakeholders are kept in the loop. There needs to be ways to communicate accurate, timely updates to stakeholders in various locations.
And not every person will be reachable in the same manner. Some might be reachable via cell phone, others by work landline phones, SMS, email or even pager (yes, they’re still in use).
Overcoming the challenges
How you communicate with stakeholders could make the difference between swiftly containing an incident and creating a media circus. One way to ensure accuracy of messages is to develop message templates in advance.
- Create a list of the types of business disruptions you might face, everything from routine operations issues to major disasters.
- For each scenario, define the specific people and groups who need to be notified at various stages of the crisis. This includes those involved in the response, as well as stakeholders who simply need to be informed.
- Determine how your teams will be structured. Are there several people who can fill a role on a team, or just one person.
- Craft initial and follow-up messages that will be sent to each group of people.
- Identify the preferred communication devices for each person on the recipient lists.
- Identify alternate contacts for key roles and the roles needed for each team.
These steps will make it easier (and faster) to assemble the right people on your teams when some can’t be reached or can’t be available. They also will reduce the likelihood of human error when messages are sent.
Technology can make a difference
There are various technologies that can significantly improve communications in time-sensitive situations. An automated data-driven messaging solution can convey precise information to hundreds or even thousands within a few minutes, regardless of the communications devices used by each person. Choose a secure system that allows authorized stakeholders to directly input updates without an intermediary. This reduces delays and increases accuracy, as well as widening the scope of information available.
It’s critical that the system be simple to use and support templates for the various scenarios that you developed in advance. The system should also have automation features such as alternates, dynamic teams based on roles, and escalated alerts. The right solutions will eliminate human error and ensure that the right messages are sent to the right people and devices.
Often, there is a perception that all crisis communications software does pretty much the same thing. In a comparison of emergency notification or incident management systems, however, you’ll find that there are actually a features and capabilities that differ from vendor to vendor. For instance, many do not have the ability to record voice alerts or send different messages in one alert to voice, SMS text and email.
Coordinating the response
An ideal solution will notify your people, have the right program documents and plans at the ready, and provide a 24/7 “one-stop-shop” crisis coordination center for all stakeholders. This ensures that employees can move into their crisis management roles as quickly as possible.
Use a web-based crisis communications center, instead of a ragtag network of email and cell phones, and you’ll have a responsive crisis management force that can focus their attention on the tasks at hand, and not be held back by communications issues.