Disaster Preparedness Part Two: Why Communication Is Key

tornado damage

Last month, we talked about the importance of taking proactive steps to evaluate your business’s level of disaster preparedness. Developing your disaster preparedness plan is a critical first step, as taking proactive steps before disaster strikes will help to lessen the financial ramifications of a disaster by helping your business reopen sooner.

But what do you do once disaster actually strikes? How do you communicate internally and externally during and after a disaster?

Communication Is Key

Business owners dealing with a crisis often overlook this critical component of business continuity. The way your business communicates both during and after a disaster will directly affect how well your business recovers.

Here are some top tips to keep in mind as your business develops a crisis communication plan:

  1. Develop and maintain an emergency contact list. This should include home phone numbers, alternate mobile numbers, personal email addresses, and family contact information. As you build your list, consider your different audiences, including customers, employees, vendors, and your local community.
  1. Establish a phone tree assignment system so everyone is aware of who they need to get in touch with in the aftermath of a disaster. In a world that relies so heavily on digital communications and electronics, a traditional phone tree and assignment system clearly outlined on easily-accessible hard copies can be immensely helpful during a crisis.
  1. Establish a formal evacuation plan and practice it with your employees on a regular basis.
  1. Evaluate text or email alert systems that can push notifications to both employees and customers. If you find one that works well for your business, make sure you test the system on a regular basis to ensure that it works correctly.

Communicating Clearly

The disaster preparedness tips above are great when it comes to how to communicate, but the messages your business communicates are equally important. Misleading information, even from outside sources, can drive speculation about a business. It’s absolutely critical to focus on precise, effective communication to both the public and your internal audiences both during and following a disaster.

Here are two best practices to consider:

  1. As best you can, monitor what is said and written about your company during and following a disaster. This enables you to not only monitor but to join the conversation, and it may also provide insight on the strengths and weaknesses of your business strategy as a whole.
  1. Develop a plan to work with the local media when appropriate. With proper planning, the media can serve your business in a support role as it works to rebuild after a disaster. In order to make this successful, your business will need a designated spokesperson that has some basic media training under his or her belt. All employees should receive training materials noting which members of the staff are media trained and highlighting key messaging points so everyone – media trained or not – knows how to communicate with a consistent voice and message during a disaster.

Proactive planning and organized crisis communication can go a long way in helping you return to business as usual following a disaster. And of course, it’s always a good idea to conduct a formal debrief following any incident to evaluate the lessons learned and use them to improve your crisis communication plan moving forward.

Tornado Aftermath Photo via Shutterstock