Critical Event Management, Winter Weather

Winter’s Coming: Time to Warm Up Employee Safety and Communications

By Shannon Gallo

The 2021-2022 winter weather season will be marked by “flip-flop” weather conditions across the U.S., the Farmers’ Almanac predicts, including some wide swings in temperatures. That means a lot more unpredictable conditions, including a stormy, chilly January, followed by a more tranquil February before the lions of March – including a potential Nor’easter and late winter storms – rush in.

The weather map is further complicated by a La Niña climate pattern, which is forecasted to recur again this winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has predicted a 70 to 80 percent chance of La Niña, which typically brings dry and sometimes drought conditions to the southern tier of the U.S. and cold temperatures and potential flooding to the Pacific Northwest. It could also extend the already active 2021 hurricane season.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 and its variants continue to cause uncertainty in workplaces. So, what should you do now to ensure employees have all the information they need? To avoid leaving your employees out in the cold during these chilly and stormy months, now’s the time to rev the engine on your employee safety and communications strategy.

Communications Considerations for Winter Weather

First things first. You don’t start building a house at the roofline. And you shouldn’t start there either when it comes to the serious impacts of winter weather. A crisis communications plan is exactly where you start for proactive emergency management. Planning should be done well in advance of hurricane warnings and without ice storms breathing frigid air down your neck.

Pull up last winter’s critical communications plan to evaluate how it fared last winter. Did your mass notification system work as you planned it would? On the metrics dashboard, note which of the planned outreach modes worked best (email, text, phone, mobile app). Did you reach the right number of people? Reports should be easily accessible. If it’s not a high enough percentage, perhaps your communications plan could use more attention in the research phase. A quick poll online or a few focus groups might help adjust the plan.

The single most important crisis element is communications with your employees. So don’t leave contact updates to chance. Be sure your mass notification system integrates with your internal business applications and syncs with your employee directory on a regular schedule. This way, when data files are backed up daily, you know your important message will always reach the person for whom it’s meant.

Once that’s done, your plan for this year will include new information and possibly new communications tactics.

Anticipate and Prepare for Bad Weather

Another important part of strategically planning for winter weather events includes having the right systems in place to deliver crisis information when you most need it. Using technology like modern critical event management streamlines your ability to identify early any severe weather events likely to impact your operations and then communicate timely instructions to employees.

For instance, AI-powered risk intelligence pulls in information from thousands of information sources like the National Weather Service (NWS), and is capable of pinpointing in minutes the storm clouds hovering over your facilities. It then provides actionable intelligence – detailed, location-specific information about winter weather, all available from an easy-to-use dashboard, including dynamic maps of forecasts for facilities, logistics and even personnel movements in real time. In the COVID era, information about where your employees are working is likely to change constantly, making this last insight especially critical.

With critical communications, you can craft pre-defined messages and upload templates to the system well in advance. When the time comes, you can add the specifics and send the alert – saving valuable time.

Likewise, your plan should include steps for activating response teams. For instance, you may prepare an alert about an incoming storm for plant management that includes instructions about how to shut down quickly and send employees home.

Critical event management also enhances collaboration and communication among response team members, while removing the possibility of errors. Management will be able to quickly reach the right people using group messaging. No more wrong numbers or trying to track down the person who has the most current file. Employees can collaborate using task-based assignments, tracking and two-way communications. Key stakeholders have visibility to monitor the situation in real time.

Proactively Inform Employees About Winter Weather Plans

Severe storms may take down phone and power lines and leave cell towers without service.  Employees can feel helpless when faced with no signal. It’s essential to their safety that they feel confident and know what steps to take if all else fails.

A mass notification system will help you deliver alerts quickly through multiple channels, so be sure your communications strategy includes a plan for proactively alerting employees to where they can find more information.

  • Social media: Define a winter weather-specific communique to encourage employees to subscribe to the company’s social channels. That will be a quick way to check for information pertinent to them during a winter-weather event, like warnings, instructions and advisories.
  • Key contact information: Onsite employees may need a hotline number to call for urgent information about where to seek shelter, evacuation protocols and other weather-related updates and building leaders.
  • On-site emergency lead contact information: Having safety officers or volunteer emergency captains on-site is beneficial. Employees working onsite should have the phone numbers, email addresses and building locations for these helpful folks.

Clear policies pertaining to when to come into the office and when to stay home, what to do if communication is difficult, what to expect if offices close and how the company will handle pay and time off are required. This upfront information will save employees’ worry and risk; they’ll know that their employer considers the most essential task for them is to stay safe.

Winter weather can be fierce and destructive, but it’s also possible to minimize the impact and protect your people, places and property. With a bit of planning and the right critical event management capabilities in place, you can ride out anything Father Winter sends your way.

For a closer look at how OnSolve AI-powered Critical Event Management can help you boost your winter weather preparedness, request a demo.