September is National Preparedness Month (NPM). If an emergency were to strike today, would your small business be ready? It’s easy to let day-to-day “emergencies” – an unhappy client, a last-minute deadline change – take priority over planning for the "real" emergencies that could do irrevocable damage to your business.
One of the most important elements in an effective emergency preparedness plan is a clear communication strategy. Clear communication in the aftermath of an emergency can make the difference between shutting down for an extended period or quickly re-opening to service customers and clients, cautions the Small Business Administration (SBA).
This year’s theme – “Don’t Wait, Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today” – is a critical reminder that communication matters. You also need to communicate your plan to the entire company in advance so everyone is clear about their role and ready to take action when the emergency strikes.
Does your business have an emergency communications plan in place? This month, consider setting time aside to consider how an emergency could impact your business and creating (or updating) your emergency communication plan. Here are some tips to get started:
Whether you have 5 employees or 50, assigning roles and responsibilities will help prevent confusion immediately after the emergency. Start by appointing a primary decision maker and a back-up decision maker. Next, consider how you can leverage existing relationships for maximum impact when delegating more specific tasks. For example, you might designate an account specialist as the point person for keeping clients posted on the disruption and recovery process. Your HR coordinator might take on the responsibility of updating employees on a re-opening timeline. Finally, keep in mind that the emergency could also create media attention. Consider designating one person with public relations experience as the official "company spokesperson" to avoid multiple, conflicting statements to local media outlets.
Who will make the initial phone call to employees? Is texting better than phone calls or email? What if an employee cannot be reached; should you contact a spouse or relative? Can employees use a social networking platform like Facebook or Twitter for crisis communication? These are just a few of the questions that you may wish to consider when crafting the “how” part of your company’s emergency communication plan. SBA recommends including the following when developing a crisis communications plan:
- Phone/email tree (including spouse/family information for employees)
- Website emergency messaging system
- Phone/voicemail emergency messaging system
- Preference for multiple communication forms (text, email, phone)
Document the emergency communication plan with electronic and hardcopies that employees can quickly reference, like a pocket card or small booklet. Set clear expectations with employees for crisis communication plan activation by discussing what constitutes an emergency. Most of us think about “big” emergencies like a hurricane or earthquake, but in reality, it’s the “small” emergencies like a burst pipe, a prolonged power outage or a server failure that are the most likely to happen, cautions the SBA. Educate employees about what to expect under different scenarios.
If you are creating an emergency communication plan for the first time or are not sure how to get started, PrepareMyBusiness.org is a site with a number of resources for disaster preparedness and planning. This includes a template for building your own Crisis Communications Checklist, Emergency Communications Plan and Risk Assessment Checklist.