In the midst of an EMERGENCY
In the heat of an emergency do cooler heads truly prevail?
Yes, it is likely that in the midst of an emergency the person calling the shots has to be the one with the best possible outlook that can handle notifying others in the heat of the moment. Could you do it? Do you panic in emergency situations? Finding someone that keeps a cool and calm demeanor is an important part of lining up a team that can function well and complete their tasks during an emergency.
Let’s think about what has to be done in an emergency. You have to gather the details and then disseminate those details to those that could possibly effected by it. You must be able to relay the information in the cleanest, clearest, fastest way possible. The message must be direct, easily understood and it must reach the widest audience possible.
So, as the person in charge of communication, you need to have a plan in place prior to any emergency occurring. You also need to test the plan. Flying blind isn’t an option for this type of process. So you need to uncover your best way to communicate to as many people as possible. First, go over your options:
Texting. Does everyone in your company or school or university have access to a phone that can send/receive texts?
Desktop notifications. Does everyone use a computer? Are they normally working at their desks in order to see a notification?
E-mail, either company e-mail or private. Will they check company, school or university e-mail if they are not working that specific day? What if they are out to lunch? Can they check those e-mails on their smart phones?
Company, school or university web sites. As a means of communicating to your employees or students, these are probably better for disseminating large amounts of information such as security procedures and policies. In order to make them work however you must ensure that everyone has access and that everyone has read them.
PA System. Notifications over a PA System reach everyone at once and that includes everyone that might be part of the problem as well. Another caveat is that they reach people in and sometimes surrounding the building, but not people that are away from the building.
Second will you give out the entire message at once or will your message point people to a web site or phone number they should call for further information? That said, you have the following options:
Texting is a great option for getting the word out to multiple people at once. A) You could send a text referring people to a web site that will give them information on multiple levels, what the emergency is, where to go, when to go, etc. B) You could send the entire message. This works well in cases of town-wide emergency alerts for road closures, floods or missing children. C) Alerting people to an e-mail through texting might also ensure that they check their e-mail to read the message. There are often days when I don’t check my e-mail until late in the evening, but as I receive text messages throughout the day I read them within moments of receiving them.
Desktop notifications are an easy way to notify employees within a building that there is a present danger or that there will be a drill soon or that there is an event outside the building and they should remain inside. The message can also tell them to check their e-mail or let them know about a department meeting to discuss the issue, thus quickly gathering them to one place so they know what is going on.
E-mails are a great way to notify employees or students; however there is the issue with everyone not reading their e-mail at the exact moment they receive it so there is potential for delay.
PA System notifications, campus TV channel notifications or campus radio are all ways to notify multiple people with far-reaching results.
Clearly just one type of communication is not enough. Multiple avenues of communication are needed to reach the greatest number of people. Students are most likely to see and respond to text messages quickly and efficiently. Professors or executives behind a desk will likely see e-mails and respond very quickly. Parents normally carry a phone just in case the school needs to call for any reason, so a text message is probably the fastest way to reach them. Now if this emergency is ongoing, moving quickly and the information needs to get out there to tell people to keep clear of the area or to go to a staging area to meet their children, I would say use every avenue possible. Post a notice on the web site, have an emergency system in place to send a text and send an e-mail with a voice recording if there is no time to type. Have a system in place that calls anyone signed up for notifications a recorded message the same as the e-mail. Alerts like fire alarms, hurricane sirens or tsunami warning systems all employ notifications that are audible alert systems for those directly in the area. These are changing over to text or phone alerts as well.
In the end, there are many types of alerts to choose from; however your best bet may be word of mouth. In a local emergency, knocking on your neighbor’s doors may be the only way that they receive notice. The elderly will likely not check web sites or receive text messages in the event of an emergency, so be a good neighbor. Watch out for those around you and pass the word along, because it may be the only word that they hear.