BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
The business continuity management process contains several important steps. Communicating information during and following a disaster to relevant parties is a key emergency management priority. This guide examines the steps an organization's emergency coordinator and business continuity planners must follow to create an effective emergency communications plan. It also provides a downloadable template to help with crisis communications planning for a variety of incidents.
A typical emergency communications plan is part of an overall emergency action plan. It should be detailed and carefully designed and include information on how both internal and external crisis communications will be handled.
Internal emergency management alerts can be sent using email, overhead building paging systems, voice messages or text messages to mobile devices. This type of communication would include 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.
External emergency communications that should be part of a business continuity plan include how to notify family members of an injury or death, discuss the disaster with the media and provide status information to key clients and stakeholders. The emergency coordinator must ensure that each message is 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 they must be tailored to the specific audiences in subsequent releases.
Getting messages out during and following an emergency 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 have management support, be regularly reviewed and updated as needed, and be flexible enough to address a variety of emergency situations.
SearchDisasterRecovery has created a free, downloadable emergency communications plan template for business continuity planners. It can be used as a basic crisis communications plan. Each of the steps will have additional actions within them, which must be defined and incorporated into the overall emergency management plan. Use this template to create an emergency communications plan that can be put into effect following the onset of an incident.
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:
- Launch quickly.
- Brief senior management on the situation.
- Identify and brief the company spokesperson on the situation.
- Prepare and issue company statements to the media and other organizations.
- Organize and facilitate broadcast media coverage.
- Communicate situation information and procedural instructions to employees and other stakeholders.
- Communicate with employee families and the local community.
- Continually adapt to changing events associated with the emergency.
General emergency communications planning considerations
Here are six important areas to be aware of when creating an emergency communications plan.
- Senior management support is essential. Without it, you won't be able to formulate a plan and could end up with a confused or unclear response to an emergency. That could result in unfavorable media coverage, negative public relations and, possibly, 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 interested parties informed, resolve incorrect information and tell the truth about the situation.
- Review and test. Once the plan is complete, review it and try it out to ensure that the documented procedures make sense and function correctly and that 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 an emergency communications plan and dividing up responsibilities, as that department will probably coordinate all external and internal crisis communications.
What you need before the emergency
Every emergency is different. However, a standard set of resources and tools should be developed that will be useful to have in many situations. These resources and tools must be updated as needed and kept in a central location accessible to all members of the emergency response team.
In addition to a step-by-step emergency communications plan, the following information needs to be prepared and compiled before an emergency occurs:
- 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.;
- prewritten documents, such as press releases, initial announcements and follow-up statements;
- location where media will convene, with provided power, network access, television monitors, a briefing area and a 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; and
- company policy with regard to all aspects of emergency communications.
What you need during the emergency
While the emergency operations are going on, it will be important to have certain pieces of information. The crisis communications plan should include steps to collect and access this information and disseminate it to emergency responders and others who need it to carry out their responsibilities.
The plan may include setting up a central command center for emergency personnel to work out of. However, under some circumstances, they may not be able to access the central command center. The plan needs to work under both circumstances. The following information might be needed during the emergency:
- confirmed location of all employees;
- updated status reports on the incident;
- list of internal people contacted;
- list of external organizations contacted;
- list of resources needed, obtained and returned;
- actions taken during the incident;
- updated emergency communications plan;
- problems encountered and how they were resolved;
- persistent problems that require additional help; and
- narrative of the incident: what happened, what was done, the results and the outcomes.
What you need after the emergency
After the emergency has ended, specific information will be needed to account for all employees and other people involved in the incident, document all actions taken and otherwise close out the incident.
The following post-crisis steps should be included in an emergency communications plan:
- confirmation that all employees have returned to work safely;
- final status reports on the incident;
- complete list of internal people contacted;
- complete list of external organizations contacted;
- complete list of resources needed, obtained, used and returned;
- actions taken to end the incident;
- documented and annotated emergency communications plan;
- complete list of problems encountered and how they were resolved; and
- complete narrative of the incident: what happened, what was done, the results and the outcomes.
Find out if your organization needs an emergency communications plan
Get our free guide and template to business continuity planning
Download our free business continuity policy template