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Designing Your Communications Plan for Incident Management

Written by  Frank Shultz November 4, 2013

Maintaining clear communications between recovery teams, executives, employees, customers, and shareholders is critical during a disaster. Today’s technology allows for a number of options to ensure that timely, accurate updates are being delivered, but it can be confusing to know what platforms will work best when developing your communications plan. The best methods of communications vary by audience and depends primarily on three factors: rapidity of updates, number of message recipients, and confidentiality of data being shared.

Recovery Teams

The most critical, confidential communications that go to a relatively small number of recipients typically is to recovery teams after an incident is declared. As an incident commander or continuity manager, your first responsibility is to mobilize individuals to react and respond to the situation at hand. Employees may be at home off-hours or in meetings during the workday but it’s vital to reach them quickly and discreetly. Because of the variability of time and location, the best method of contact is typically a phone call or text message. If your organization subscribes to a mass notification service, sending an alert to the team may be one way of initial contact, or you may choose to develop a manual call tree or text tree. Two-way communication at this point is critical, so make sure to establish a way for individuals to respond back so that you will know who is able to engage in recovery efforts.

Once you have established who is able to respond, establish check-in periods or ways to communicate back with the rest of the team going forward. If you have a large or geographically diverse recovery team, conference calls or group texts may be confusing as cross-talk will occur and it may be difficult to understand which issues are critical. At this point in recovery efforts, it may be advantageous to create some kind of chat room or internal message board so that critical issues can be identified and prioritized quickly. Utilizing an external service such as Skype or Google Talk/Google Hangouts can enable team communication even if corporate instant messaging or email is unavailable because employees are at home or are outside of company firewalls. These services are free to use but provide the ability to restrict who engages in communications and who is invited to chat rooms.

Executives

Communications with executive teams are typically less frequent but are likely of the same confidential nature as communications with your recovery teams. Initial message content may be the same as is sent to your recovery teams, but it may be advantageous to invite executives to a dashboard or status page where they can check-in as they are available. If you utilize an incident management platform, you may be able to do this within that tool or you can leverage an online spreadsheet in a Microsoft SharePoint/Office 365 environment or Google Docs. These platforms are secure and allow for invitation-only access, but are available both inside and outside of company infrastructure and allow for quick updates between team members.

Employees

Employee communications are often less frequent and may be to a large audience or may be targeted to a specific geographical or organizational unit. It’s just as important to keep your employees in the loop as it is your executives, but the messaging is often different. Prior to a disaster, it’s important to identify how you will communicate with your employees: will you utilize an outbound, active methodology where employees are called by a mass notification system? Or will you utilize a passive system where employees call in to a hotline or view a message board? In either case, it’s important to notify employees of the recovery process and how it affects their normal activities. Confidentiality at this level of communication is usually still important so it’s not recommended to utilize a service like Twitter or Facebook unless absolutely necessary.

Customers and Shareholders

Customer and shareholder communications typically are much less frequent, even more so than employee communications. While it’s critical to be able to reach out to the broader audience, timing is more of an as needed/as available basis for these groups. The messaging is also usually of a less confidential nature as this is typically what the media will also have access to and ties directly to your crisis management plan. This is the point at which it makes sense to utilize social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. These services allow you to reach a very broad audience that is connected to your organization or brand and allows for both existing consumers of company information as well as new subscribers of updates. Updating your corporate website with a news alert or message on the homepage can also assist with an understanding if there are service delays because of the incident.

Whatever your organization decides to utilize for the various audiences and consumers of crisis communications, it’s vital to establish a communications plan ahead of time. Much of the confusion and chaos can be contained by notifying the various audiences how and on what frequency they will receive updates, and how they are involved in recovery efforts. By utilizing a combination of internal tools, notification and incident management platforms, and freely available services for social media, your organization will be able to react and respond more quickly to anything that’s thrown your way.

Frank-ShultzFrank Shultz of BC in the Cloud has designed and implemented Business Continuity Management platforms for over 10 years. He has worked to develop BCM platforms that allow for continuous improvement within organizations by utilizing new technologies and access to new data sources. Frank has focused his efforts on creating systems that are easy to use and can adapt to any organization’s workflow. More information about the BC in the Cloud continuity platform can be found at www.bcinthecloud.com