The nearly 1,000 lawyer international law firm employs more than 50 lawyers and staff in Minneapolis and wanted to make sure the firm’s employees and their family members were safe. Fulbright’s Minneapolis office handles everything from intellectual property to corporate, labor and employment, alternative energy and litigation matters.
A little more than a month earlier, Fulbright purchased an emergency notification solution. The firm wanted to automate emergency communications to make sure if a disaster occurred, they could communicate with employees and give guidance, if needed. In order to effectively communicate during an emergency situation, Fulbright wanted to make sure the solution they put in place used numerous methods ranging from cell phone notifications to e-mail and telephone calls.
The bridge incident proved to be a critical, real-world test of Fulbright’s crisis management plans, teams, and tools. During the incident, Fulbright’s goal was to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for as quickly as possible. Initial stories indicated some were dead and many were injured but because of the extent of the damage, it would be days before the news media was able to report with accuracy the impact of the disaster.
Emergency Communication – The Challenges and Advantages
Threats from a variety of situations, including natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, or fires), power outages, terrorist threats, and criminal activity make it essential for companies to be able to quickly and reliably communicate, as well as organize and assist in managing crisis.
At the heart of emergency notification is the assurance that companies can help keep employees safe or direct help their way if they need it. For these reasons, deploying emergency notification solutions has become a priority for a significant number of organizations from large enterprises to universities and government agencies. This is especially important for today’s distributed organizations that have branches or satellite offices in multiple cities or even countries.
Ten years ago when a disaster happened, the crisis team would literally manually call each employee at a home number to give instructions or to check on the employee’s status. More recently, companies might try to call employees’ cell phones or send an e-mail. In today’s dynamic, global workplace manual solutions are ineffective since they can break due to human error and other factors and are not enough to keep employees safe. For example, using a call tree takes far too long to support a true emergency situation. In fact, with thousands of employees scattered in offices across the globe, it would be nearly impossible for Fulbright to manually inform all employees of a crisis situation.
Analysts and experts agree that effective incident management requires an automated solution. A recent survey found that the two most important objectives for emergency communication were 1) executing the response and recovery efforts and 2) decreasing the risk of injury to employees. As a result the emergency notification industry is evolving to automate all message delivery and enable companies to reach users and allow them to respond, anytime/anywhere via text-enabled devices or voice-enabled devices (this includes in-bound capabilities). For most companies, implementing the next-generation of emergency notification solutions has quickly become an important part of their overall business continuity planning.
Real-World Emergency Notification
Once Fulbright learned of the collapse, the firm made the decision to put its new emergency notification solution to the test. The emergency notification activation was managed remotely from Houston and initiated in just a few minutes. Being able to remotely manage the notification process is important for Fulbright as a global firm.
The system was also easy to use and it gave Fulbright the speed and flexibility to customize the notification based on employees possibly being in transit and those who may not be aware that something devastating had happened. Fulbright began by initiating a roll-call. Different than just sending a message or alert with information, a roll-call enabled Fulbright to ask specific questions of its employees, which was vital in helping them manage the unfolding situation. The roll-call allowed Fulbright to immediately begin determining if employees were safe and if assistance was needed. As a result, Fulbright had access to up-to-date status information for its employees.
The two-way polling capability of the notification solution enabled Fulbright to reach and receive confirmations from 65 percent of the office’s lawyers and staff within 10 minutes and 78 percent within 35 minutes.
Within hours, every one of the firm’s employees in Minneapolis had been accounted for. Employees who received the notification by phone could dial “1” to send a message that they were fine. If an employee needed help, a number was given to call. If the alert reached an answering machine, it left a different message asking the recipient to call back via a toll-free number.
Those who received the e-mail format of the notification could simply reply back by e-mail. Being able to harness multiple communication channels is important during an emergency or disaster because some local cell phone and landline phones can become overloaded.
Given that the firm operates with many cross-functional, international teams of lawyers and staff who are connected professionally and personally, it was important for the firm’s 2,300 employees to know that their colleagues in Minneapolis were safe. Fulbright was able to determine the whereabouts of its Minneapolis team, and notify its employees that everyone was safe far ahead of the media that was still waiting for final information on the collapse days later.
The peace of mind for the firm’s leadership, and for every lawyer and staff member, was the single most important benefit of the emergency notification system.
Although the firm had tested the system before the crisis, Fulbright knows its emergency notification solution is always ready for quick activation during any emergency – large or small, local, national, or global – and that a powerful emergency notification system and good planning are vital.
About The Author: Matt Ridings is the disaster recovery administrator for Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.
About The Author: Paul D’Arcy is vice president of worldwide marketing for MessageOne and an expert on email and crisis communication infrastructure. With more than 15 years of technology marketing experience, he is a published author and a frequent speaker at industry conferences.
"Appeared in DRJ's Spring 2008 Issue"