What Is a Crisis?
A crisis is a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. By this definition, a crisis one faces can be as simple as being short-staffed one night to an extreme of requiring emergency response to a tragic event. When presented with a crisis, how quickly and how effectively you respond to it makes a dramatic impact on how you and your organization make it out on the other end of it, placing a great importance on having an effective plan and using the right technology for crisis management.
Responding to Crisis
In September 2017, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, ravaged through Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean sea, displacing hundreds of thousands of Americans and causing a record-setting amount of damage estimated at over 90 billion dollars. In the aftermath of the storm, nearly 180,000 Americans migrated from Puerto Rico to the US mainland with nearly one third of them ending up in central and southern Florida.
To help respond to a rapid increase of those needing assistance in Central Florida, the Episcopal Office of Latino Assistance (EOLA) was formed to help families find work and transition into permanent housing in the wake of the storm. Since its formation, EOLA has had the responsibility of organizing the relief of donor assistance to thousands in the Central Florida area recovering from storms and other social issues within the region.
How EOLA Responds
With Florida and the Caribbean facing up to 10 tropical storms a year, a comprehensive crisis management plan is crucial for the safety to those served. When a storm is projected to hit Florida, a clear and concise message is sent out to everyone detailing storm preparation material including hurricane prep instructions, evacuation zones, and local shelters open in an individual’s area. As storms develop and into their aftermath, additional scenarios in the plan exist to update members with timely information about the status of services and how people to seek assistance. All these efforts for crisis communications are made through multiple streams of technology including website updates, social media, and a church management platform that sends email and text (SMS) messages. With multiple channels of communication, EOLA is able to reach the greatest possible number of people to ensure safety without relying on a single point of failure when it comes to software downtime.
Preparing for a Crisis
When it comes to preparing for a crisis there are three key phases: developing a communication plan, testing the plan, and responding quickly with your plan.
Make a Plan
When drafting your crisis management plan, there are two important questions you need to ask yourself:
- What are you preparing for?
- Who are you communication to?
Once you have identified what you are preparing for, walk through the scenario as though it was happening in real time and address these questions. In the example below, our scenario is based as though EOLA is preparing for a hurricane, with sample answers in parenthesis.
- How do we know when to activate our communications plan? (When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a tropical storm or hurricane to make landfall within the next five days in our operational area.)
- Who has the authority to activate our communication plan? (The CEO, COO, General Council, or VP of Communications of EOLA alone can make the decision to activate the communication plan.)
- How many communications do we want to send out? (Once the communication plan has been activated, a message is sent every 24 hours, even if there are no substantial changes in storm conditions. Additional crisis communications can also be made at the sole discretion of the original decision makers.)
- What type of crisis communications are to be sent out? (Content will include hurricane preparation steps on how to close down facilities and information of municipal resources including shelter details and evacuation zones.)
- How will these communications be sent out? (All information will be posted to the EOLA website, social media accounts including Twitter and Facebook, and SMS through EOLA’s Send Word Now account.)
- Who will send out these messages? (The director of public safety will send out messages to all platforms.)
- Who will receive these messages? (All members of staff and management including part-time, seasonal, and union employees.)
- When will our plan be considered a success? (When wind speeds have fallen below 10 mph and all employees have responded as being safe.)
Test Your Plan
It’s 7 a.m. A crisis has occurred requiring you to contact all members of your organization about an active threat at your company location. No problem. You have a plan for just such a thing drafted only eight months ago. You are about to send out your pre-scripted message only to be notified to wait because you might be breaking federal laws contacting union employees before 7:30 a.m. and that you’ll have to wait till your law department confirms whether is safe to proceed sacrificing precious time.
Finally, you receive approval to send out a mass text to all non-union members requiring you to create a last-minute, new contact list excluding those who shouldn’t be reached. You check your phone frantically waiting for the message to be received. After 10 minutes, you come to realize your message failed and you’re back to square one, failing to communicate to your organization’s members.
A crisis management plan is only effective if you have the means to execute it with confidence. The best-laid plans never tested are certain to fail unless all steps are tested on a regular basis with all members of your organization involved. In retrospect to the above scenario, had a plan been tested under a mock scenario, holes in the line of approval could have been identified, allowing you to recognize your communication platform was never fully set up or able to handle the load you really intended to put it through. We can’t stress enough the importance of testing.
- Test your communication plan fully with all possible members involved.
- Test your communication platform fully sending it to all intended recipients, not just a test group.
- Have multiple communication services in the event your primary one fails you.
- Test fully and test regularly. Complete testing at least once every quarter ensuring that your plan is always up to date, your communication systems are ready when you are, and as old members leave and new ones arrive, everyone is trained in their responsibility when responding to a crisis.
- Ensure everyone’s contact information is always up to date.
This part is short. Up to this point, your organization should have a well-documented and tested crisis communication plan. When a crisis occurs, time is the most valuable resource you can give your people to effectively prepare and respond. Always remember to act fast when you are in a time of crisis and respond accordingly.
A crucial component of any communication plan is how you will actually reach your audience. In addition to posting to your website and social media, you should also consider other forms of communication depending on the visibility your message needs to have. Additional forms of crisis communications can include SMS, email, voice (automated-calling), push notifications (software installed on workstations and mobile apps), PA, digital signage, and, surprisingly, even fax. There are thousands of communication vendors that exist for most organizational needs. Included below are just a few that you might consider.
Onsolve is a vendor of enterprise-level communication services for those needing to contact thousands of people simultaneously. Customers include NASA, Pepsi, universities, and local municipalities. Their redundant infrastructure will ensure your message is delivered timely through all available communication channels. Supported contact methods include, but are not limited to, voice, SMS, email, push notifications (workstation and phone), and, yes, even fax.
Call Em All provides SMS, direct to voicemail, and voice services perfect for small- to medium-sized organizations. Customers include state universities, local schools, and doctors’ offices.
Connected Church provides SMS, email, and social media messaging services primarily for small- to medium-sized faith-based organizations. Customers primarily consist of small groups and churches with attendance below 500.
This is a great summary video effectively covering the main points that your management should consider when making your communication plan: Things You Need to Know About Crisis Communications.
Provided by Homeland security this provides greater details on the consideration you and your organization should include with your communication plan: Homeland Security Crisis Communication Plan Planning.
This video by UNC-Chapel Hill discusses how they will notify their students based on a broad range of potential crises and provides a great example of communicating an organization’s plan: University Updates Emergency Communication Plan.
Is Your Website Ready for a Crisis?
Contact the team at WebDevStudios. We’d be honored to help you develop and build the features you need on your website to make it ready for successful crisis management.