Communications Planning Before Natural Disasters

Have a plan and be prepared to use social media sites as a backup

This weekend the New York area is facing an impending hurricane, and recently experienced its first real earthquake

Hurricane Irene - 2011

in over 65 years. Today we should all be a little more aware of the potential natural disasters that can hit and disrupt business operations. As a public relations professional for over 20 years and President of Corbett Public Relations, I have seen all kinds of crisis situations, including natural and man-made disasters, impact clients. Natural disasters, including major snowstorm like those we experienced this last winter, are all reminders that we need to have a communications plan in place. The following are a few strategies to protect your business’ integrity, reputation and methods for communicating during and after a major weather event or any other disaster.

Today, more than ever, communication is a major priority for most businesses. We are all connected, possibly overconnected, and rely heavily on our technology. Natural disasters and technology don’t mix, and we must prepare for this.

It is vital to have a communications plan for keeping staff, clients and vendors informed about your business’ ability to function and meet their needs. If you plan to close before a big storm or if closing is contingent on the severity of the conditions, let everyone know immediately. Send e-mails, make phone calls, and change the message on your answering machine and cell phone.

We are lucky today: social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer additional vehicles for getting information out. Write updates on your own Facebook Wall and your Twitter feed about company plans, but also send direct messages to staff members and key clients and vendors. Let clients, contacts and staff know that you will be using social media sites for this purpose. Encourage them to check these sites and post information and/or questions. Post emergency contact numbers or temporary numbers as well as e-mail addresses where managers and company principals can be reached. Remember, keep your cell phone and laptop fully charged. Your proactive approach will demonstrate responsibility, and it will be appreciated by clients and staff alike.

Huricane Katrina Flooding

Should disaster strike and your office needs to close, and if power goes out or internet services go down, your office phones, e-mail server and office computer network will be out of commission. With your e-mail off line and website down, social media can be used as your backup. No matter how big the disaster Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn will most likely all be up and running. These sites may become your only means of communicating with staff, customers and others. The beauty of social media is that updates can be done from your mobile device, laptop or home computer. Even if your power and home phone line are out, these updates can be made with your Smartphone. Remember, however, that cell phone towers have only an hour or so of battery backup so make sure if you have to post on your social media sites that you do so quickly.

Protect your data and have your contacts with you. The worst-case scenario resulting from a major weather incident would be the complete loss of proprietary data or even computers or servers. Take precautions and work with a credible information technology or remote backup company to protect your business’ most valuable asset. Keep a copy of your contact database on an external hard drive or thumb drive in case you have to operate from home and need your contacts’ e-mails and phone numbers. As I mentioned, social media sites may serve as vital communications for you and your business. Make sure you have all your passwords and e-mail accounts with you and a backup stored in a remote but accessible location.

Keeping a business communication flow open and working will show that you are a proactive and prepared operation. Clients need to know your status and how to contact you with their questions and possibly their emergencies. Failure to communicate properly with clients or not being able to provide service could damage your reputation and create issues. These issues could intensify and cause the loss of a client or, in extreme circumstances, businesses could shut down.

Although we can’t control the weather, we can control our own actions. So prepare your communications plan now for your business in order to minimize disruptions, reduce confusion and maintain the flow of information.

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