Putting snow tires on the SUV. Flushing the radiator. Changing the oil. These tasks take a bit of sweat and elbow grease. But they’re easier to tackle before the mercury dips, you’re late for a meeting and your wheels are spinning in a ditch in the driveway.
The same principle holds true when you, as an organizational leader, face the perilous months of winter. No company that values its workforce would dream of heading into winter without a sound strategy to protect its employees from the season’s brutal and often destructive weather. Now is the time to ensure your winter crisis communications plan meets the goal of protecting your employees.
Post Your Winter Weather Administrative Policies
Employees will be interested in two main policy categories when a major winter storm has been predicted. They’ll want to know under what conditions offices will close and how the company will handle pay and time off. More than a courtesy, this information can mean the difference between an employee who stays home during a blizzard versus one who gets in an accident traveling to work.
Post these policies on your intranet so HR, managers and all employees can access them at any time. For a greater likelihood that people will read them, format the policies as an FAQ. Additionally, consider setting up a message board employees can call to listen to the latest updates on office closures and benefits.
Dedicate a Portal to Winter Weather Emergencies
Provide employees with a portal focused on weather emergency information. It’s unnecessary to design the portal to replace the wealth of information the National Weather Service (NWS), news media and public agencies offer. Simply present the knowledge they’ll most likely need, including:
- RSS feeds: Prominently display the latest weather alerts on the portal for quick reference.
- Important phone numbers: Add a hotline for onsite employees that provides weather updates and instructions on seeking shelter and when and how to evacuate.
- Social channels: Display the latest alerts from the company’s active social media accounts. Encourage employees to subscribe to these channels and check them regularly for the latest weather advisories, warnings and instructions.
- Emergency personnel: For onsite employees, provide phone numbers, email addresses and building locations for safety officers and volunteers like emergency floor captains.
Setting up a portal is a great practice because it’s not uncommon that you’ll be unable to reach some employees during particularly intense storms. Severe weather can take down telephone lines and knock out cell towers, which interferes with mobile communications. Additionally, a portal can encourage employees to be actively involved in managing their safety.
Build a Winter Crisis Communications Plan
The foundation of proactive emergency management is a crisis communications plan. A well-designed plan helps you execute smoothly and methodically under dire conditions, like a mega-blizzard that dumps a foot of snow per hour.
The calm before the storm is when to craft a thorough crisis communications plan. Before the season, you can take time to study what the NWS predicts for your region and model different emergency scenarios.
Additionally, you can review how well your critical communications fared the previous winter. Begin by examining how effectively you used your mass notification system. Look at metrics, such as which modes (text, mobile app, email and phone) and social channels reached the most employees and how many people consumed sent messages.
After you’ve reviewed your performance from last winter, incorporate what you’ve learned into this year’s crisis communications plan. And follow best practices that set your organization up for success such as:
- Script alerts: Don’t wait until a storm is punishing your workplace to assemble ad hoc alerts. Instead, craft alerts from templates to address likely weather emergencies and load them into your mass alert system. If conditions change abruptly, you can edit these templates in your system quickly and send out alerts to those at risk.
- Segment employees: Mass notification systems make it easy to target groups of employees with the specific information they need. Create a communications matrix and segment employees by criteria like location (e.g., “Pittsburgh campus,” “Portland, Oregon Plant” ) and role within the organization (e.g., “Management,” “Essential Employee”).
- Gather thorough contact information: Incomplete contact information may be why you failed to reach some employees during previous emergencies. Encourage employees to update their information before winter, including work, home and mobile numbers, email addresses, social media handles and their preferred method of contact.
- Enable two-way communications: Employees may feel disconnected if they’re unable to reach you. Let them know which modes or social channels you or their managers use most often to engage in conversations. Bidirectional communication enables employees to check in during an emergency, offer feedback and answer your questions about their health or availability.
Such a thoughtfully developed, highly targeted and automated approach is more likely to save lives and prevent accidents and injuries. Demonstrating that you have a plan will instill faith in your employees. It also will enable you to articulate your messages calmly in a crisis.
We encourage you to download this library of emergency alerts and routine messages that you can customize to communicate with your employees before, during and after a critical event.
Give Employees a Pre-Season Preview
Another great practice is to make employees more aware about winter safety before the season kicks into gear. Begin by sending strategic emails or tweets before the holidays, when employees become wrapped up in year-end business, shopping, school breaks and vacations.
Create canned messages on common topics that you can send out automatically at a cadence that doesn’t overwhelm. For example, send messages covering subjects like:
- Parking restrictions at the workplace during snowstorms
- Expectations for employees when their kids’ schools are delayed or closed
- Reminders about building emergency kits for the office and their vehicles
- Announcement of the launch of the updated winter weather emergency portal
Severe winter weather is unavoidable. But you can and should plan your communications long before the season starts.