Every location has some sort of weather-related disaster it needs to mitigate. It could be hurricanes, snowstorms, floods, fires and even tornadoes. This means that every business needs to have a disaster communication team and plan.
The plan has two primary purposes. First, the disaster communication plan should deal with the disaster itself. This will be specific to the disaster you're dealing with. While there are common steps that businesses should take in both a hurricane and a snowstorm (like having plenty of batteries on hand), there will also be unique steps for each. The second purpose of a disaster communications plan is the communication part. It's possible that the communication strategy will apply in more than one emergency.
Here are five things to consider when creating a disaster communication team and plan for your organization.
1. Don't Attach Emergency Responsibilities to Job Titles
Emergencies are out of the ordinary situations. Organizations need to consider the individual — both on a personal as well as an emotional level — before making them responsible for disaster communications. A senior manager could have a family member they need to care for. It's not fair to make employees choose between their family and the organization. Before assigning an employee to the disaster communications team, make sure they're OK with it.
2. Train Everyone on the Disaster Communications Team
The team needs to be able to work together under highly stressful conditions. They need to be able to problem-solve, collaborate and make decisions as a group. The team will also need media and public relations training. Disasters attract the media, but don't assume that's a bad thing. The media could show up to ask about some great thing employees are doing during the storm. Give your team the tools to be comfortable speaking with the media.
3. Talk About Disasters Early and Often
Some natural disasters come without warning, but many give us advance notice. Don't wait until the last minute to activate your organization's team. Not only can this be helpful for planning, but it allows team members to take care of their personal matters early. There may be times with a potential threat doesn't materialize, which is a good thing. However, don't miss the chance for the team to debrief about what went well and what they might do different next time.
4. Develop a Communications Tree for Employees
Some organizations can simply close operations and send employees home to take care of their families. Others might need to keep a small group on site. Organizations need to establish a way for employees to know if they should come to work. On the other hand, organizations need to know if an employee is capable of safely traveling to their work location. The good news is technology has made the task of communication so much easier. The downside is that even technology is susceptible to natural disasters. Organizations must think about communications when phone systems are down or when employees don't have access to the internet.
5. Incorporate Disaster Communications Into Onboarding and Team Meetings
The safety and well-being of employees should be ingrained in your organizational culture. Talk about safety and disaster communications during orientation and onboarding. Managers should bring up safety and disaster preparedness during team meetings.
Part of what makes weather disasters so stressful is that we don't talk about them until we absolutely have to. While there's no need to be alarmist, it's OK to send the message that the organization has a team and a plan, and that the safety of employees and customers is its number one priority.
Having a disaster communications team and plan is not just a "nice to have" — it's a necessary part of operating a business. When done correctly, the organization not only takes care of its employees but protects its future.
Don't let your plan get dusty or allow your team to disengage. Even if you only do a 10-minute review once a quarter, it keeps safety top of mind.
If you would like to learn more about how to manage leave during and after a disaster and what benefits, policies, and programs can help employees recover, listen to ADP's webinar "Natural Disasters Can Help Drive a 'Climate Change' in Your Business Leave Policies."
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