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October 12, 2009

Proactive Communications for Education, Security and Restoration in the Wake of Pandemic Influenza

Written by  Carolyn DeWitt
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With H1N1 now present in all parts of the world and the annual flu season underway, health experts believe as much as 40 percent of the global workforce could be affected at any given time. Not since 1968 have we faced such a bona fide threat from a pandemic outbreak. Obviously, this has prompted business continuity/disaster recovery planners to take comprehensive, if not extreme, measures to help their respective organizations prevent illness or more importantly, prevail in its presence.

While it is extremely difficult to prepare for the unknown, it is imperative to anticipate the worst, particularly in the face of this impending public health threat. As an example, you must consider the real possibility that your office, campus, retail outlet or government operation could completely shut down due to an influenza outbreak. In this instance, you will need to alert employees (both at and off work), and quite possibly, suppliers, clients, the media and/or local residents, of your closure. You may also want to remind people of precautionary measures in an effort to stop or slow the spread of the virus. In follow up, you may need to provide status updates, share return-to-work instructions or advise locals of your facility’s re-opening.

Unfortunately, pandemic influenza, unlike other contingencies, will leave organizations highly susceptible to communications breakdown. This is partly because so many individuals will be unable to receive, or as with manual call trees, carry out, notifications; and partly because contact data may not be up-to-date.

Immediate, yet careful examination of your communications capabilities will expose any/all vulnerabilities, helping your organization react faster and more effectively in an influenza outbreak. For those utilizing emergency notification technology, this will more than likely result in the development and testing of new alerting schemas and/or modifications to existing ones. For those relying on manual or single-modal notification methods, it may require numerous provisions be made before, during and after illness strikes if continuity plans are to be fully executed.

This article will provide sample communications outlines using emergency notification technology for the purpose of educating your audience(s), securing your people, and restoring your operation’s balance in the wake of today’s pandemic influenza threat.

Educate Your Audience(s)
The single most effective way to safeguard people against getting sick is through virus education. Therefore, keeping your audience(s), whether employees, students or the community-at-large, informed of outbreaks and preventative measures should be a critical part of your overall pandemic preparedness and response strategy. So too should be the gathering of information from them, which can potentially help your organization avert an outbreak, office closure, etc. or better communicate in the event of one.

The following outline provides an example of how businesses can use emergency notification technology to deliver timely details to hundreds, or even thousands, of people in a matter of minutes. It also demonstrates how a surveying tool, often an option with these type solutions, can collect the feedback needed to make faster, more informed decisions in the wake of a pandemic threat.

Gathering information such as this can help the people of your organization know exactly what precautions and/or actions to take to protect themselves and maintain business continuity. Other relevant notifications for this communications phase include travel restrictions, meeting limitations and the of personal protection equipment, such as disinfectants and surgical masks.

Secure Your People

As influenza cases are identified within your business, campus or community, pandemic response plans must quickly be put into action. For most organizations, this will require immediate communication and collaboration between management and other key groups. In these instances, emergency notification technology can prove extremely useful, as evidenced in the following diagram:

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After a plan is formulated and agreed upon, it should be communicated to personnel. Again, using emergency notification technology, details can be quickly distributed to everyone via telephone (landline or cell), e-mail, SMS (text messaging), etc. If a desktop alerting application is being used in tandem with this type system, you may also find it useful to mass-notify everyone physically or remotely connected to your network. This will further ensure the timeliness and effectiveness of your overall pandemic response strategy, as people are instantly made aware of the situation.

Organizations may also find it useful to employ their emergency notification solutions’ bulletin board feature (if applicable) for ongoing, less than urgent communications. By providing employees a specific telephone number to call during a closure, everyone can, at their leisure, obtain the latest information concerning the outbreak. 

Restore Your Balance
Once the spread of influenza slows and the number of infected individuals decreases, people must be notified that business operations and daily activities can resume as normal. A separate message could be sent to suppliers, customers, stakeholders and others, informing them of your organization’s recommencement. Emergency notification technology, as evidenced below, is a viable means for closing the pandemic-related communications loop. 

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The sample communications outlines identified here can be easily implemented or adjusted to meet your organization’s specific notification requirements. They may also be modified to work within the technological parameters of most any emergency notification solution, regardless of supplier. Lastly, these outlines can be executed in a variety of areas outside the corporate environment, including public safety, K-12 and higher education, and health care, to name a few.

For organizations that do not currently utilize emergency notification technology, schemas such as these clearly demonstrate the capabilities and benefits these type solutions have to offer. They may also, in some way, prove valuable as you work to improve the manual or single-modal means of communication you rely on today. Moreover, they may help you justify the technology’s acquisition in preparation for next year’s flu season and other contingencies.

While pandemic influenza will not damage power lines, banks or computer networks, it will ultimately threaten an organization’s critical infrastructure by affecting people. For this reason, it will leave organizations more susceptible than ever to communications breakdown. Emergency notification technology, as evidenced by these sample communications outlines, is a practical, highly effective solution which can augment any pandemic preparedness and response strategy.

Carolyn DeWitt is the national sales manager for Dialogic Communications Corp. (DCC), a PlantCML® company and global leader in emergency notification technology. 

 

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