Four Severe Weather Communication Mistakes

Fast, accurate, and frequent communication with employees is fundamental when effectively preparing for and managing severe weather emergency events.

By Aaron Charlesworth

Severe Weather emergency notification service
(Photo: OnSolve)

Last year proved to be a wild one for severe weather events. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria combined with devastating Western wildfires and other natural catastrophes made 2017 the most expensive year on record for disasters in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And while everyone is at the mercy of the weather, proper preparation and rapid response can minimize the negative impact on people and facilities. Fast, accurate and frequent communication with employees is also fundamental when effectively preparing for and managing severe weather emergency events.

No tool is better suited for supporting the required level and frequency of communication than a comprehensive emergency notification service. Emergency notification services are used by enterprises and commercial facility operators to interact with employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders in crisis situations. However, some organizations are still using archaic methods, such as phone trees and intranet postings for outreach, hoping the message gets through. Others may use a notification system of some type, but it is outdated or underutilized.

To address these barriers to effective crisis communication, here are four identified communication mistakes made by facility executives and managers. While these mistakes are directly applicable to severe weather situations, they also apply more broadly to virtually any critical event. Eliminating these mistakes can lead to lower risk exposure, better responsiveness, and faster recovery—a recipe for saving time and money

1. Slow Response Team Coordination

In virtually every organization, there is a team of individuals to whom the organization looks for crisis response decisions. This team structure may be highly formalized with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Or, duties may be less distinct, with responsibilities assigned on an ad hoc basis. Whatever the case, bringing together these key individuals is often one of the first crisis response steps. Even in severe weather situations where forecasts may have provided some means of early warning, circumstances can change rapidly and the unexpected can occur. Not to mention, decisions will need to be made after the storm has passed. Rapid response team coordination is a must.

Unfortunately, in today’s complex world of global and mobile workforces, rallying a crisis response team may not be as easy as simply calling a meeting in the boardroom. Manual approaches for dealing with this complexity may fare poorly. A calendar invite for an urgent conference call sent by email may not be seen. Or, if the meeting reminder is seen, time is often wasted as participants fumble with call-in numbers, meeting IDs and passwords. Further, calling personnel one at a time to bridge participation is a slow and inefficient process. The potential result is poor coordination, uninformed decisions, and delayed response.

Comprehensive emergency notification services make notifying and coordinating response teams easy and fast. When considering a notification service, make sure it allows for easy-to-access outbound conferencing—particularly given many team members are often mobile in responding to emergency events. This feature can dramatically reduce the time it takes to gather crisis response team personnel.

2. Treating Notifications As A One-way Street

Facility professionals who are considering the implementation of a notification program are generally drawn to the technology for its ability to send outbound alerts very rapidly. This is understandable, as some services are capable of sending tens of thousands of messages within just a few minutes. However, with such rapid outbound capabilities, managers may overlook the benefits of receiving information back from recipients. Allowing alert recipients to indicate their health or safety status, ability to respond to a situation, confirmation they have received instructions and more through all of the various communication modalities can be a powerful tool for employee accountability and crisis response.

When selecting a notification solution, be sure to choose a service that allows you to ask recipients a question and capture their feedback from within the notification. The management of this feedback loop should be simple, fully integrated into the message building process, and not presented in a separate application or screen. Recipients should be able to respond to the question using any communication device. And, data should be captured and summarized in easy-to-read reports for quick analysis and decision-making.

3. Not Maintaining Contact Records

In severe weather, or any critical event, it is imperative employee contact data is accurate and up to date. Further, multiple points of contact for each employee is highly desirable to ensure messages get through if one or more communication devices are unavailable. Unfortunately, some managers launch notifications during a crisis, only to discover a large percentage of their employee base is unreachable due to outdated or incomplete information.

A notification service should allow for multiple ways to manage recipient data to ensure it is complete and accurate, and provide a number of easy methods for bringing data into the service. A recipient self-update allows allows recipients to access and update their contact record through a secure online portal. Notices can be sent to recipients reminding them to confirm the accuracy of their information.

Develop and maintain training and testing programs, including initial and annual trainings, and coordinate tests that closely mirror real-world situations. By playing out different scenarios, you can catch contact record issues in advance of a true emergency when the cost of losing such valuable data would be more severe.

4. Failing To Prepare For Inbound Communications

Rapid, automated outbound communication is generally the primary reason companies subscribe to emergency notification services. Facility executives or managers sometimes fail to adequately plan for inbound communication channels as means to communicate with employees and other stakeholders. Yet, in critical situations, such as severe weather where circumstances may evolve over time, employees, suppliers or others may attempt to call the company’s main phone number seeking new information and instruction. This can bog down phone lines, consume scarce personnel resources and delay information getting to the people who need it the most.

To avoid this potential mistake, make sure your notification service provides capabilities for calling into a designated number to obtain information. Recipient message boards allow individuals to retrieve specific messages that were previously distributed via an outbound notification. So, for example, an employee who missed an outbound voice notification could dial into a dedicated toll free number, enter her credentials, and hear a playback of the message. In addition, the employee is not limited to simply hearing a static playback of the recording; she is also able to respond to a question such as “Are you OK?” from within the voice message using her touch-tone device. Her feedback is captured and available for reports which can be further used by administrators and incident managers for crisis response purposes.

Severe weather is a pervasive business continuity threat in the U.S. and across the globe. Add this to the myriad of hazards faced by organizations today, and it is easy to understand why rapid, accurate, and secure communication is essential for effective response and recovery when managing facilities. Whether you do or don’t utilize an emergency notification service for resilience purposes, you will avoid these four communication mistakes and leverage the service to its fullest capability.

As Chief Marketing Officer at OnSolve, Aaron Charlesworth leads all demand generation and corporate communication functions. Prior to joining OnSolve, he served as the Vice President of Product Management for the business product portfolio at Vonage. During his time at Vonage, he also held the position of Vice President of Marketing for business solutions.