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Developing an emergency communications plan: A template for business continuity planners

Find out the proper steps business continuity planners need to take to develop and execute an emergency communications plan, and download our emergency communications plan template in this guide.

By Paul Kirvan, CISA, CSSP, FBCI, CBCP

The  business continuity management process contains several important steps.  Communicating information during and following a disaster to relevant parties is a key priority. In this guide, we will examine an emergency communications plan for business continuity planners, and then you can download a  template to help you with your emergency communications planning that can be adapted to a variety of incidents.

DEVELOPING AN EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLAN: TABLE OF CONTENTS

>> Getting started with emergency communications planning
>> Eight things your emergency communications plan must do
>> General emergency communications planning considerations
>> Free emergency communications planning template


 

GETTING STARTED WITH EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLANNING

A typical emergency communications plan should be extensive in detail and properly planned by a business continuity planner. Internal alerts are sent using either email, overhead building paging systems, voice messages or text messages to cell/smartphones with instructions to evacuate the building and relocate at assembly points, updates on the status of the situation, and notification of when it's safe to return to work. External emergency communications that should fit into your business continuity plan include notifying family members of an injury or death, discussing the disaster with the media, and providing status information to key clients and stakeholders. Each message needs to be prepared with the audience (e.g., employees, media, families, government regulators) in mind; broad general announcements may be acceptable in the initial aftermath of an incident, but these will need to be tailored to the audiences in subsequent releases.

Getting the message out following an emergency situation presents many challenges. First, it's necessary to prepare an emergency communications plan that describes how the organization will respond to an incident. It must be supported by management, regularly reviewed, updated as needed, and be flexible enough to address a variety of emergency situations.

EIGHT THINGS YOUR EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLAN MUST DO

Emergency situations and disasters can range from fires, floods and severe weather, to kidnappings, bomb threats and vandalism. An emergency communications plan must be able to do the following eight things:

  1. Launch quickly.
  2. Brief senior management on the situation.
  3. Identify and brief the company spokesperson of the situation.
  4. Prepare and issue company statements to the media and other organizations.
  5. Organize and facilitate broadcast media coverage.
  6. Communicate situation information and procedural instructions to employees and other stakeholders.
  7. Communicate with employee families and the local community.
  8. Continually adapt to changing events associated with the emergency.

GENERAL EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS

The following checklist contains some general emergency communications planning considerations to be aware of.

  • Senior management support is essential. Without it you won't be able to formulate a plan, and could be faced with unfavorable media coverage and possibly even lawsuits.
  • Keep it simple. A well organized, step-by-step plan with relevant information at your fingertips will help you get through most incidents.
  • Focus emergency content on relevant information. Provide only the relevant facts as they are available, get them out quickly and proactively, follow up regularly, keep relevant parties informed, resolve incorrect information and tell the truth about the situation.
  • Review and test. Once the plan is complete, review and exercise it to ensure that the documented procedures make sense and supporting materials (e.g., press release forms, media briefing arrangements, lists of critical contacts) are up to date.
  • Be flexible. A basic plan template and supporting document files should be sufficient for managing most emergency situations.
  • Coordinate with corporate PR. If your organization has its own internal public relations department, work closely with the staff in developing emergency communications plans as that department will probably coordinate all external and internal communications.

In addition to a step-by-step plan, the following additional information needs to be prepared and accumulated before, during and after the emergency has passed.

What you need before the emergency

  • Step-by-step emergency communications plan
  • List of internal contacts, e.g., employees
  • List of external contacts, e.g., media, vendors, government agencies
  • Special forms, such as call logs to track inquiries from the media and others, an emergency contact directory, an incident description report, a bomb threat report, etc.
  • Pre-written documents such as press releases, initial announcements and follow-up statements
  • Location for media to convene, with provided power, network access, television monitors, briefing area and work area
  • Trained emergency communications team
  • Trained company spokesperson
  • Technology for rapidly disseminating emergency information to employees, stakeholders, suppliers, clients, government agencies, and other external entities
  • Company policy with regard to all aspects of emergency communications

What you need during the emergency

  1. Confirmed location of all employees
  2. Updated status reports on the incident
  3. List of internal people contacted
  4. List of external organizations contacted
  5. List of resources needed, obtained and returned
  6. Actions taken during the incident
  7. Updated emergency communications plan
  8. Problems encountered and how they were resolved
  9. Persistent problems that require additional help
  10. Narrative of the incident: what happened, what was done, the results and the outcomes

What you need after the emergency

  1. Confirmation that all employees have returned to work safely
  2. Final status reports on the incident
  3. Complete list of internal people contacted
  4. Complete list of external organizations contacted
  5. Complete list of resources needed, obtained and returned
  6. Actions taken to end the incident
  7. Documented and annotated emergency communications plan
  8. Complete list of problems encountered and how they were resolved
  9. Completed narrative of the incident: what happened, what was done, the results and the outcomes

FREE EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLANNING TEMPLATE FOR BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLANNERS

SearchDisasterRecovery.com has created a free, downloadable emergency communications planning template for business continuity planners. It can be used as a basic emergency communications plan. Each of the steps will have additional actions within them, which need to be defined and incorporated into the overall plan. Use this template following the onset of an incident. Click here to download the emergency communications planning template.

About this author: Paul Kirvan, CISA, CSSP, FBCI, CBCP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He has been directly involved with dozens of IT/telecom consulting and audit engagements ranging from governance program development, program exercising, execution and maintenance, and RFP preparation and response. Kirvan currently works as an independent business continuity consultant/auditor and is the secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA chapter and can be reached at pkirvan@msn.com.

This was first published in September 2010

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Essential Guide

Essential guide to disaster recovery and business continuity

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