For public safety professionals, tests and exercises are common training methods used to prepare first responders for crisis situations. For business continuity professionals, opportunities to conduct enterprise-wide preparedness tests may realistically be more limited. However, the same principles and benefits apply. Better testing yields better results in real-life situations.
This is particularly true for crisis communication. As such, a well thought-out process for testing and exercising emergency notification systems and processes is crucial for success. If your organization has yet to formalize a testing/exercise plan for emergency notification, consider the following ideas for implementing a consistent approach.
First, test your notification service daily. This is not a large-scale alert and may only be sent to one or two people. However, implementing the process gives administrators frequent exposure to the application, providing a greater degree of comfort overall. Daily logins to the service also mean important customer service messages, such as new capabilities, are seen more quickly. And, it provides confidence the internal networks and/or communication infrastructure is working as expected.
Monthly test plans should focus on proper creation of notifications by company personnel responsible for initiating alerts. For this, real-life situations are described in writing to system users. Users are then required to create an appropriate notification, considering a variety of complexities and parameters. This tests a user’s knowledge of the system, and their understanding of business continuity procedures.
This test generally stops short of “hitting the go button” and launching a notification. However, it can identify areas of training and operational weakness. Tip: Even though the messages created in this exercise will not actually be sent, be sure each test alert clearly identifies (at the beginning and end of the message) that this is indeed only a test—just in case.
Finally, exercise the system across the enterprise at least twice per year (some organizations prefer quarterly). Make at least one of these tests unannounced. Make sure test messages are clear and concise. Repeat the word “test” multiple times to ensure people are clear it is not a real emergency. Review reports and Get Word Back responses to determine if any gaps in employees’ knowledge exist.
Whether it is this precise approach, or another one more tailored to your organization, following a defined testing and exercise regimen will help identify technical or procedural barriers to effective notification, while helping familiarize employees and other stakeholders with the notification process.