2017 was no walk in the park when it came to the onslaught of natural disasters and we’ve already seen similar issues brewing in 2018. Dangerous and lethal mudslides hit California in January as a result of wildfires and much of Puerto Rico is still without power after Hurricane Maria. Many companies impacted by these disasters and others have had to shut down temporarily or had offices destroyed altogether.
How should you communicate with your employees, clients and the media when these natural disasters hit? While you hope you never have to use it, having a crisis communications plan in place in case of emergencies and natural disasters is vital to ensure the safety of your employees and the reputation of your company. Here are some key issues to keep in mind for an effective communications response to a natural disaster.
Have a Plan in Place Before You Need It
As with all crisis communications, companies should have a plan for such natural disasters in place before it is actually needed. Too often, this is an afterthought and teams have to develop and implement procedures on the fly, leading to confusion. At the very least, be sure to have a designated communications leader at each office to disseminate any pertinent information and call scripts or emails for affected offices or external audiences that will be impacted.
While it is crucial to at least have an outline of an emergency communications plan in place, it needs to be flexible. Every event is unique and will have its own requirements.
Every Audience is Important
Understand how to communicate with each of your organization’s audiences. Employees, customers and the media will be affected by a disaster in different ways. Employees may be directly impacted by any damage, while clients or the media may be located elsewhere but also need to be updated on the progress of a project or assignment. You need to know what information to share with each audience, how to properly prepare them before a disaster hits and what type of language resonates best given the circumstances.
Employees – Senior leadership should provide direction on how work will or will not continue while the natural disaster is occurring. Will employees need to work from home, continue to make client calls, or work from a remote office? What will be expected of them, and who should they check in with and when?
Management or the designated emergency communications person should keep all employees updated as frequently as possible to ensure that business is impacted as little as possible.
Clients – In addition to preparing employees, companies should also prepare for how they will communicate with clients in the event of an emergency. Have an email or call script that can be quickly disseminated to clients that may be impacted by your office closures or altered work schedules. Contact those clients immediately and ensure them that your company is working hard to guarantee that their projects are minimally impacted by any natural disasters.
If it is your client that is hit with a natural disaster, make the effort to reach out to see if there are any business-related activities that need to be changed or postponed. If your company is responsible for delivering product, make sure that there are employees at your client’s location that can receive it. Keep the lines of communication open so that any pertinent information can be shared between you and your client.
Media – When a disaster hits the media may reach out for comment, especially if your company is prominent in the area. How is the disaster impacting production? Are your employees out of work – are they getting paid? Does your company plan on helping with the restoration efforts? Though you might not have all the answers, you should be prepared for the questions. Develop a strawman Q&A that you would expect from the media and have them prepared for when they call.
The “Calm” After the Storm
Once the hurricane has dissipated, the wildfire has been put out, or the earthquake has stopped, your emergency communications plan still is not over. Offices may have been destroyed, people’s lives might be impacted, and business may have been disrupted.
Leadership should rally the troops once it is safe at the office again and promote a positive and forward-thinking, yet still respectful, attitude to keep morale high. If your company had a significant presence in the area, media outreach may be necessary to assuage concerns.
The time to create an emergency communications plan is not after an emergency occurs – there simply will not be time. But when an organization is prepared, it can weather any emergency situation as well as preserve its reputation.
– Kristen Roubal
Image via The Blue Diamond Gallery