8 Lessons on Flood Crisis Communications

Whether it's a breaching dam, overflowing river or surging coastal storm, all floods create hazards, displace people and restrict goods, services and commerce.

We sat down with two OnSolve experts on emergency management and business continuity to get their advice on how to handle flood crisis communications: Troy Harper, our Vice President of Public Sector, and Ann Pickren, our Senior Vice President of Strategic Engagement and business continuity expert.

If there’s one thing to take away from our conversation, it’s this: Government agencies and commercial enterprises can learn a lot from each other. The key: Work together and communicate.

Lesson 1: Dust off your response plans.

Got a flood response plan you haven’t updated since Superstorm Sandy? Harper and Pickren couldn’t agree more on this point: Dust it off at least once a year, preferably before the start of flood season.

Harper: Test your communication capabilities with staff. Do you have what you need to give fast, effective advance notice of a flood’s potential? It might be time for an upgrade. And while you’re at it, check your facility insurance to make sure you've got adequate coverage.

Pickren: Evaluate your communications protocols to make sure they are still accurate. Are the authorized individuals even there anymore? Does everyone still know what they’re responsible for? Are the communications approved and ready for immediate use?  Get organized now so you’re ready — before the next alert comes through.

Lesson 2: Reach out and work together on pre-season planning.

When it comes to planning, the private and public sectors can help each other in one critical way: outreach. Both sides of the equation, our experts say, need to maintain an open line of communication so they’re getting the information they need from each other.

Harper: Once the advisory is out, it's too late. That's not the time to plan. Most emergency operation centers have a business and industry section to work with local agencies. Whether you’re a small shop with 10 employees or a large business with 12,000, everyone needs to register to receive alerts.

Pickren: From a commercial standpoint, make ties into your local emergency management. Don't wait for FEMA or your local emergency management to reach out to you. And understand how you're going to communicate. Where do you go to get information? And how do you exchange valuable content? You've got to have that communication.

Lesson 3: Stay in touch with local officials.

In any flood, official evacuation warnings come from government. So even large corporations with their own fire department, Harper says, need to communicate with local officials. And as Pickren puts it, “It's not the one-off, it's the established discipline that you're going to follow.”

Harper: I know quite a few large Fortune 50 companies where the business actually has a seat in the emergency operations center, just because they're that critical. They might transport hazardous materials, or they have resources that can help with the response and recovery.

Pickren: Inversely, we've seen large corporations that say, “We'll handle it, we've got our own fire department. There's a corporation to protect our assets, we've got our own security, we have our own meteorologist on staff.” Even those folks need to communicate with local officials.

Lesson 4: Connect with small local businesses.

Local public safety agencies should work with business and industry associations — like the chamber of commerce or economic development office — to connect with small local businesses.

Harper: We can pull information from data sets like 911 data, but those are only a portion of the community. The best data is when a citizen or business goes to an opt-in web portal and puts their own information in.

Pickren: The business point person has to have a good understanding of what they need to do to prepare, and clearly set their expectations for recovery and return to open business.

Lesson 5: Maintain a strong alliance between agencies and business.

Knowing how to source information during a flood is just as important as planning. The best course of action: boots-on-the-ground partnerships between agencies and businesses.

Harper: Any jurisdictional authority – police, fire, emergency management – that alerts, informs and protects the public needs to inform their community that they have a critical event management system and make sure everyone knows how to register, opt in and update their information.

Pickren: From the corporate side, the commercial person responsible needs to make sure they’re part of the communication coming out of a local emergency management group so there's a direct line of communication that allows them to take action for their facility and the people in it.

Lesson 6: Increase situational awareness by keeping tabs on multiple sources.

As a storm worsens, anyone in flood-prone areas should monitor multiple sources to get the most accurate information. Keeping tabs on the social media feeds of local news outlets is one simple way to gather risk intelligence.

Harper: In this day and age it is difficult to filter out the noise for accurate risk intelligence. Using multiple sources is critical and sometimes social media or rumors get in the way. Our Critical Event Management capabilities can streamline your validation and help you respond faster and recover sooner.

Pickren: If a commercial account is receiving alerts through some type of risk intelligence system, you'd just see the weather itself. That’s not enough if you’re concerned about a health and wellness check for any employees in the evacuation zone. Staying informed with your local emergency management office will provide additional information on the potential impacts.

Lesson 7: Take advantage of free training resources from FEMA.

FEMA’s Ready Business program, provides disaster response and recovery guidance and training to agencies and commercial industry nationwide, a great resource for local emergency and facilities managers.

Harper: They'll train folks on a variety of disaster response and recovery preparedness so they can protect themselves during a variety of natural or human-caused incidents with business plans and toolkits.

Pickren: One of the things you have to understand as a commercial account is when you have the authority to go back to work or when you need to hold back and wait on local government authorities to give you permission. You have to understand the rules of authority.

Lesson 8: Review the after-action report and identify areas for improvement.

One of the most important parts of a disaster is the after-action report — learning from what others have done well or where they need to improve — especially in agencies of equal size to you.

Harper: It's one thing to look at a 9/11 or Las Vegas shooting report, but it's another to look at a city or town or county of your size and their last incidents in after-action report to see: Where did they communicate well? What did they learn from businesses? Were they even involved or engaged?

Pickren: The whole intent of the after-action report is to understand where you can improve your response for future events, as well, use this opportunity to garner the engagement you need throughout your business. More communities and local agencies need to work together to establish an open portal for businesses to get information — and not wait until government pushes it out.

Flood season is upon us. Do you have the tools and plans in place to keep your people, places and property safe?

Want to learn more? Download our flood preparedness communications kit, which includes the "4 Days in a 500 Year Flood" ebook featuring more insights from our experts.


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