Emergency Workplace Safety Begins Now

Safety is a crucial and often underrated part of any company. For some businesses, such as manufacturers and distributors, it's a part of day-to-day business for every employee, requiring rigorous training and frequent drills. For others who provide services and employ knowledge workers, safety may not be a common consideration in the workplace beyond the occasional fire drill. Where both of these worlds converge, however, is during a crisis.

It may be anything from an earthquake to an industrial accident, but emergencies can happen to any business at any time. And when the building is on fire is not the time to sit down with various departments and discuss how to give employees the news that they need to evacuate. Crisis communication plans should be in place before a disaster happens, with simple means of keeping employees aware of the situation.

The Importance of Planning
Crisis communication plans can be a challenge to implement effectively. In fact, according to the recent Emergency Preparedness Survey conducted by AtHoc, the average enterprise requires 16 different people to play a role during an organizational crisis. What's more, it can take one to two hours to contact even 80 percent of these key people. In one or two hours, it may be too late to resolve the emergency in the best way possible.

Despite these challenges, however, businesses do understand the importance of having a plan. More than four in five said that crisis communication planning is important. Likely contributing to this is the fact that, on average, they have experienced two emergencies within the past three years. And yet, despite the understanding of the importance, relatively few – just 42 percent – actually have a complete crisis communication plan in place.

Best Practices for Creating a Plan
The survey revealed two different kinds of businesses with regard to how they treat their crisis communications. The group following best practices was designated top-tier businesses, while the bottom-tier companies take less initiative. The top-tier companies were much more likely to consider having a crisis communication plan as important. They are also 60 percent more likely than bottom-tier companies to actually have a plan in place. They also use the latest technology to help them with their plan and are more than five times as likely to store the communication plan in the cloud for maximum accessibility.

This proactive perspective pays off for top-tier businesses when emergencies do strike. They are able to notify their employees about the situation twice as fast as the bottom-tier companies. And with that increased efficiency, resolving emergencies is also much faster. They are 55 percent more likely to resolve crises within an hour, compared to those that don't follow the best practices.

What about after the emergency has passed? The ramifications of a crisis situation can last for weeks or months, impacting the long-term operations of the business. Here, too, the top-tier businesses showed greater resilience, reporting fewer problems with issues such as financial loss.

Implementing Best Practices in Your Organization
Because the safety of your employees is your highest priority in an emergency, you should act now to follow the example of top-tier organizations and implement a crisis communication plan. A critical part of that plan is the system that you use to notify your people of an emergency as it occurs, directing them to safety. To reduce the time required for making these notifications, you should consider developing a system that meets these requirements.

  • Automated alerting: A system that can deploy alerts in real-time with minimal human intervention can significantly reduce communication time, minimizing safety issues.
  • Multiple channels: You can't depend on your employees being at their desks if an emergency arises. You need a way to send alerts to their computer, desktop phone, mobile phone, email accounts – anything that will get them the right information quickly.
  • Two-way communication: Some emergencies require simple communications, such as telling employees to evacuate in the event of a fire. Others can be better resolved if those involved in the situation can send communications back to provide useful intelligence. And if they can send rich media such as photos, maps and video, that's even better.
  • Central authority: You can't depend on large groups of people to each deliver the same information to separate groups of employees. You need a system that can perform all alerting functions from a central point, lending authority to your notifications.
  • Legacy functionality: Few businesses will want to create a new repository of employee contact information. Make sure your communication system works with other database resources such as Active Directory, so you can keep up-to-date information in one place and reach your people wherever they are.

Communicating with employees during a crisis is a significant challenge, but it's a worthwhile investment. As the survey results show, becoming a top-tier organization through taking an active approach to planning will deliver better results. Your company will be better able to keep employees safe, and the business will benefit with better recovery. Start now to make emergency safety a higher priority in your organization.

Rear Admiral Bob Day, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired), is on the Advisory Board at AtHoc, Inc. The company is a leader in network-centric emergency notification systems. Its corporate headquarters is located in San Mateo, Calif., near the San Francisco airport.

Posted by Bob Day on Jan 09, 2015