I have been percolating some ideas about how to better integrate technology into a crisis plan I am currently working on. My work with the Red Cross over the years has sharpened my senses and I do have some idea of how to successfully communicate during a crisis. However, this week’s events at Virginia Tech have given me some further ideas.
I don’t want to start getting clinical about this before I say that I am deeply moved by the tragedy this week. Having lived in Virginia for many years I feel close to the tragedy, and moreover, because we have a dear friend who is a professor in the engineering department in V-Tech. I heard from him Tuesday night and am grateful that both he and his freshman daughter are okay.
That expressed, there are many lessons to start learning, especially as we prepare for the unexpected and communicating to large groups in crisis.
There was a great story in the Wall Street Journal today that (registration req.) discussed the use of disseminating information via texting in a crisis. I have pulled some of the information about services from that article.
My main takeaway from this event is the need for redundancy of communication. There need to be both high and low tech layers of communication to be most effective. First and foremost, an organization has to have a strategy to get in touch with all of the stakeholders and employees that need to be reached. A good start is a list of employee cell phones and home phone numbers that are ready to use in an emergency, as well as emergency contacts.
Having a crisis communication plan is essential to get the most out of our communications, but here is an incomplete checklist of tactics to consider:
High Tech Strategies
- Have a service set up to send instant text messaging (SMS), one such service is run by Omnilert and costs about $9,000 per year, another for schools is and opt in service run by Mobile Campus
- Set up redundancy in the servers to handle any increased load
- Set up and Instant Communication Platform, something my friend Ike Pigott calls the Situation Room. Running this on a blog platform is a really handy way to control the speed of getting the message out.
- Immediate updates on the web page that could be pulled from a blog platform
- E-mail blasts
- Harness the culture of Facebook and MySpace and maintain profiles there for instant communication, especially in the aftermath of events
- Make the online information you share easily viral so that it can be passed on via blogs and other social media without diluting the message
- Use YouTube to distribute video responses to a wider audience
which includes advertisements
High Touch and Lower Tech
- Equip employees across the areas that might be affected in a Paul Revere-like system of notifications. Distribute pagers and give training for instant response in disseminating messages across wide geographic or spread out operations.
- Consider a service to deliver mass phonecalls to cell and home numbers
- Employ an audio warning system, like the siren system installed at UT Austin after the shootings there in 1966, or better yet, one with audio voice warnings, as by this video it seems they used at V-Tech
- Have good relationships with bloggers and mainstream media to get messages out fast
This is just a start of the list and it will be governed by the needs of an organization and budget. However, these kind of “incidents” could happen anywhere and we need to be prepared to meet the challenges. Do you have anything to add to the list?