used with permission from SBA.gov
by Sarah Field
The idea of returning to “business as usual” when you’re in the middle of a disaster can seem impossible. While it is absolutely possible to make a full recovery, especially with the resources available to your business, many business owners overlook one of the most important parts of disaster recovery and business continuity – communication.
How your business communicates during and following a disaster can directly affect your business’s ability to recover. Misleading information, even from outsiders, can drive speculation about a damaged business – which is why precise, effective communication – both to the public and internally – is absolutely critical during and following a disaster.
Crisis Communication 101
Planning is a key component of disaster preparedness and recovery, especially when it comes to communication. Don’t wait for disaster to strike to create a crisis communication plan. Your plan should not only consider the various avenues you have to communicate, but also your different audiences – customers, employees, vendors, your community, etc.
We depend so much on digital communication and electronics, but a traditional phone tree can be immensely helpful during a crisis. Ensure that your business has alternate contact information for everyone you might need to reach, internally and externally, and provide hard copies that are easy to access.
You may also want to consider an alert notification system of some kind to send out text, email, or phone alerts through systems that are separate from your primary systems. Similarly, you may want to have a standard operating procedure in place for communication via Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels. Social media gives us the ability to push out information quickly to large groups of people, and should not be overlooked as a critical tool for crisis communication.
Here is a simple list of tips to get your company’s crisis communication plan started:
- Develop (and keep updated) an emergency contact list that includes home phone numbers, alternate mobile numbers, personal email addresses, family contact information, and a phone tree assignment system.
- Establish an evacuation plan and review it with employees on a regular basis.
- Look into email and/or text alert systems that can facilitate multiple means of communications to both employees and customers – and be sure to test the system on a regular basis.
- Develop an SOP for your online social networks for Web-based crisis communications on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
- Develop a plan to work with local media when you can. With proper planning, the media can serve in a support role as your business works to rebuild after a disaster. This means you’ll also need to designate a spokesperson/group of spokespersons and provide some sort of basic media training. All employees should know which members of the staff are media trained, and create key messaging points for these individuals to ensure consistent voice and message during a disaster.
- Similarly, as best you can, monitor what is said and written about your company during and after a disaster – it may provide more insight on the strengths and weaknesses of your business strategy than you realize.
The Bottom Line
Communicating during a disaster… Beyond communication, it’s always smart to conduct a debrief following a disaster to evaluate any lessons learned and to work to improve your crisis communication plan for future use.