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Prioritize Audiences According to Need
Who receives information first depends upon the situation. The golden rule of disaster response plans is that victims and their families always come first. Ensure they receive the most current, verified information before informing other audiences.
When your disaster has taken no victims, first, be thankful, and second, analyze which audience will feel the biggest impact from the disaster. For example, if your office computers crash but the disaster doesn’t affect customers (at least in the short-term), keep your employees abreast of the situation first and foremost. On the other hand, when both are affected, your employees must know what they should convey to customers. In PR disasters, focus on the media but be sure key employees know what you’re communicating to the press.
Develop Messages for Your Audiences Proactively
Once your employees know the chain of command, there’s just one big piece of the puzzle left: What are they supposed to communicate? The message to convey during a disaster is different every time. But that’s no reason to not develop templates and scripts now! That way, you can tweak pre-made templates and scripts in a few minutes rather than wasting hours writing them in the midst of the chaos.
Ideally, you will craft messages based upon the most likely disasters discovered during the risk assessment you conducted when preparing your normal disaster recovery plan. Of course, this can be a rather large time investment for most entrepreneurs, especially when considering the size of their company’s physical presence and staff. Rather than focusing on creating communications for every foreseeable event, create a few that can be used for different audiences and at different times.
Employee Communications – These don’t need to be particularly formal, but they should include:
- whether employees still have jobs
- when and where they should report for work
- how their duties will change during the disaster
- what precautions they should take while working during a disaster
- where they can access disaster-recovery plans
- what they should relay to customers (in most cases, advise them to not talk to the media)
- if they’ll be paid in the same manner, and if not, when and how they can expect payment
Partner and Vendor Communications – In this scenario, assume you’re experiencing the disaster, not your partners or vendors. Partners will be most concerned about any interruption of service to their customers. Vendors will need to know if their products or services should be delivered to a different location in a time of emergency.
Media Communications – There’s a reason so many business owners answer reporters’ questions with “no comment” or are unwilling to confirm developments. Your number-one priority with the media should be to squelch any chance of a rumor mill beginning. Beyond that, focus on explaining the situation as calmly and accurately as possible. Putting a cheerful, positive spin on a situation may result in a write-up that portrays you as out of touch or unconcerned about the well-being of your employees and community.
Customer Communications – In many disasters, your customers constitute your most important group. They’ll require accurate, timely and apologetic communications, usually via email. Be sure to include:
- What products or services you won’t be able to provide at the usual times
- What alternate accommodations they can make
- Any compensation you plan to make
Always present communications that demonstrate your business’s empathy for the disruption of service. Explain the situation briefly (without pointing blame at any third parties at fault) and how this will affect their accounts.
You may be tempted to include an estimated time of repair and when service will be restored. This can result in a sticky situation. The last thing you want to do is extend a promise to customers you can’t fulfill. Although a timeline of “very soon” may sound indifferent, sometimes it’s simply the best you can provide.
Take Advantage of Multiple Communication Methods
The disaster you’re experiencing will likely dictate which communications methods you rely on. When the power is out and you’re unable to travel anywhere without electricity, your options are limited. Keep a few non-digital landline phones, walkie-talkies and battery-powered radios on-hand. Consider purchasing a generator, or see what your property manager has available during an emergency.
If you do have power during a disaster, use each communication method to its full advantage.
- Phone. Who will answer the phones? Many businesses set up an automated system with recorded updates to reduce the number of calls you or your employees will take. It may behoove you to set up a special number for disasters only.
- Email. In addition to the emails mentioned earlier, consider setting up a special disasters-only email address.
- Website. Post relevant, timely updates about your disaster-recovery progress without promising a resolution in an unrealistic time frame.
- Social Media. Use Twitter and Facebook to provide status updates about the emergency. Be sure to present just the facts—and only facts relevant to your audience. In a disaster response, many organizations begin status updates with “UPDATE:” and stick to disaster-only tweets.
With a solid plan and informed staff, your business can spend more time recovering from the disaster, not worrying about the communications.