Business Continuity and Mass Notification During Severe Weather

​Only days ago, areas of Texas and Oklahoma in the southwestern U.S. were hit by massive floods and violent tornadoes. Severe storms claimed the lives of at least 21 people, and an untold number of businesses were impacted. Some of these businesses will never reopen.

As the emotional and economic recovery begins, it’s sobering to realize that few places on the planet are immune to some sort of severe weather threat. It’s also an appropriate time to consider how the business impact of weather can be minimized through better preparation and communication.

While severe weather preparedness is a substantial and complex issue, consider these simple suggestions related to communication and emergency notification:

Ensure severe weather plans extend beyond the facility. While within the four walls of a business, the impact of weather events may be obvious (flooded server rooms for example), what may be less evident is the impact they might have on worker availability and overall productivity. If workers can’t reach the office or plant due to flooded roads, the business impact will be substantial, even if the facility is not directly affected. Make sure plans consider all facets of weather-related disruptions and extend beyond the facility itself.

Plan for the crisis following the crisis. With weather events such as flooding, dangers and disruptions don’t necessarily dissipate once the rain has stopped. Rivers and streams can continue to rise for hours or days after significant rainfall, impacting individuals and businesses downstream. Understand the full spectrum of possible hazards during a severe weather event, and prepare for its various “phases.”

Define and support work-from-home plans. If possible for your organization (and an alternate site strategy is not feasible), ensure work-from-home policies are defined and employees are provided with proper tools to stay productive. Remember “tools” may not necessarily be hardware components.

Take webmail for example. Employees who typically work in an office environment may be unaccustomed to accessing their email via a standard web browser. They may not know the right URL to access the system, or the right domain name to log in externally. Yet, if employees are stuck at home due to flooded roads without their desktop computer, communication and work might continue to a degree if they can access email. Consider ways to arm workers with the information and capabilities needed to make home-based working possible.

Use geo-targeting features within your notification service. More sophisticated emergency notification services like Send Word Now have the ability to select alert recipients according to their contact address location on a map. This feature allows business continuity managers to target specific geographic areas impacted by events and send highly specific messages (while also getting crucial feedback).

It’s even possible to upload Geographic Information System (GIS) shape files (of a city’s flood plains, for example) which create predefined polygons that can then serve as selection areas. Map-based notifications may be an effective way to focus notification and situational awareness efforts.

Use multiple modes of communication. Severe weather can wreak havoc on everyday communication channels, often in erratic ways. Land lines may actually work when cellular calls can’t get through. SMS messages may be deliverable where voice calls are not. Messages sent directly to a mobile app through the Internet may reach recipients when other methods fail. As such, make sure messages are multimodal in nature. Sending information through a wide variety of channels will help ensure the information reaches its intended target.

Consider emotions in your messaging. Even if workers’ families have not experienced a loss of life during a severe weather event, the loss of personal possessions and “normalcy” can have dramatic effects. Business-oriented communications may be necessary during difficult times, but they should still be emotionally sensitive, both in content and delivery method.

For example, if your organization is accustomed to sending text-to-speech messages (where the computer translates typed words into speech), a voice recording of the CEO might be more palatable and comforting when communicating after a widely disruptive or tragic event.

Severe weather is an ongoing, unpredictable threat to personal safety and business resilience. While full resilience planning is a substantial undertaking, it is our hope these few thoughts will spark ideas to improve preparedness and enhance overall communication. Our thoughts and prayers are with the many families and businesses impacted by this latest series of storms.