Unpredictability is the defining characteristic of an emergency. A disruption to your day-to-day operations throws many variables into chaos. When people are confused, equipment isn’t working properly, or danger is imminent, you need turn to your emergency communications plan.
During a crisis, your first step is letting people know the crisis is underway. Often, this step involves a mass alert. Sometimes you want to tell an entire community to evacuate, or an entire worksite to begin emergency response. Have these communications templates ready and waiting to go.
A poorly written mass alert can create widespread panic and move your further away from your emergency response goals. Here is the checklist you need to craft effective emergency communications.
1. Have You Decided When To Deploy Your Template?
When you’re creating your emergency communications templates, keep criteria in mind for when to send them. It’s not always clear when you should deploy a message, and ultimately, it will come down to a judgment call. To assist your decision, ask the following 4 questions:
- Is this disaster very likely to happen or is it already happening?
- Does this disaster require public action?
- Does this event threaten life or property?
- Are there other, more effective ways to communicate this urgent message?
2. Have You Chosen Your Audience?
The words in your mass communications template are important, but the recipients of the message are equally important. If you need to alert executives and emergency responders first, don’t send a note out to your entire organization. Instead, pre-define your audience and build segmented employee and stakeholder lists. This task can be done well before an emergency strikes.
3. Have You Specified Evacuation Procedures?
Don’t have one uniform evacuation procedure. Instead, map evacuation procedures to their corresponding crisis. For example, in a flood, certain stairwells, elevators, escalators, and entry points may be off limits. Fires, active shooters, and hurricanes might all need different evacuation routes. Develop routes, maps, and templates that correspond to specific scenarios. That way, you don’t cause confusion or fear among affected individuals.
4. Have You Considered The Weather?
Whether you’re in the mountains, on the coast, or in the middle of the plains, you should consider the weather when creating emergency templates. If you have remote employees or employees that need access to public roads, understand how disasters will affect their ability to move or get in touch. Use segmentation to group employees based around locations and susceptibility to weather.
5. Have You Conveyed A Sense Of Certainty?
Avoid relaying any sense of confusion in the tone of your template or in the content within it. There’s no need for you to express unknown factors at this point. Only describe with is known, without including guesses or speculations. Do not overstate or understate the facts of the situation, or include emotional rhetoric.
6. Have You Maintained Consistency?
All of your templates should be both internally and externally consistent. Within the message itself, there should be no facts or directions that contradict each other. Externally, your template content should coincide with messages being distributed via other channels. For example, if you’re telling local agencies that your organization is evacuating, but you’re telling your employees to shelter in place, you’ve got to make a change. Alerts and warnings should stay as consistent as possible throughout all channels.
7. Have You Identified Risks And Assumptions?
This planning phase is the best time to check for risks and assumptions, and remove them where possible. Don’t assume people know where exits are. Don’t assume they’ve done emergency drills before. Don’t assume they will act in a calm, orderly fashion. Don’t assume the media will approach your disaster from a certain angle, or wait until you’ve figured out an emergency response plan before they begin reporting. Review all risks against your communications so that you don’t incite confusion, panic, or anger.
8. Have You Included All Pertinent Information?
In an emergency, you want to communicate quickly and effectively. Use this simple template to guide your communications:
APPLICABLE COUNTIES/AREAS: AT [h:mm AM/PM] ON [mmm dd, yyyy] EFFECTIVE UNTIL [h:mm AM/PM]. Message from [Sender Name]. [Description] [Instruction]
Depending on the communication channel, this message can be longer, shorter, or more detailed. Your ultimate goal is to improve organizational and public safety through the rapid dissemination of your message, moving people and assets out of harm’s way when possible. Make sure you spend time and brain power on creating these templates. The wrong message can turn a hazard into a full-scale disaster, while the right message can save lives.