Now is the Time to Plan for an Emergency

If recent headlines have proven anything, it’s that organizations never know what’s in store for them. If it’s not the economy or a natural disaster, it could be outright terrorism, whether physical or digital in nature. As the recent Sony hack revealed, even private companies stand to suffer from politically motivated attacks.

Both public entities and private businesses are always on the lookout for signs of the next crisis, trying to expect the unexpected and weather physical and figurative storms. To do so, they prepare emergency response plans that incorporate everything from physical security in the facility to network safeguards designed to protect sensitive files. But in any crisis, one area that may be overlooked is the need for rapid communication between employees, business stakeholders, and even response organizations. In any crisis, communication can mean the difference between a successful response and serious repercussions.

Shedding light on the importance of crisis communications is a recent emergency response survey conducted by AtHoc. The survey of 200 United States-based enterprises reveals their attitudes toward – and preparation for – communications in an emergency.

Crisis communication plans are complex but important

For any who doubt the need for a crisis communications plan, consider that 81 percent of the businesses surveyed consider it to be important. Having a plan in place greatly speeds response time, which is crucial, as most of these organizations require 16 different stakeholders to take part in remediation of a crisis. Unfortunately, it currently takes 1-2 hours for these businesses to contact 4 in 5 of those critical staff members.

While it’s a challenge to have a plan in place and to keep it updated – on average, something that is done once every four months – having a crisis communication plan is crucial. In the past three years, these businesses have experienced two emergency incidents.

The odds are against those that aren’t prepared; it’s more a matter of when, than if, something will go wrong. And, yet, despite this acknowledged importance, only 42 percent of organizations currently have a plan in place, showing that the challenges in creating a plan are real.

So, what can businesses do to be better prepared?

Becoming more prepared as an organization

There was a significant difference among the businesses surveyed between those that were more actively engaged in emergency preparedness and those that weren’t. The better prepared organizations shared several characteristics, including the following:

  • First, they were 56 percent more likely to consider that having a crisis communication plan is important, compared to those taking a more passive approach.
  • They are also 60 percent more likely to have already implemented a crisis communications plan, which is significant.
  • They take a more proactive approach to embracing technology as part of emergency preparedness. For example, they are 5.6 times as likely to use the cloud for storing their crisis communications plan. This gives them extra agility in case an emergency renders them unable to access files on the local network.

Top-tier companies also collectively experienced better outcomes when it comes to managing and recovering from crises. They are much quicker at crisis communications, being able to notify their key personnel twice as fast in an emergency compared to the bottom-tier companies. Theyalso resolve their emergencies more quickly, being 55 percent more likely to get things under control within an hour. As a result, the consequences of emergencies were less severe, with top-tier organizations feeling fewer long-term effects that may include financial setbacks or legal ramifications.

To achieve these same benefits as the top tier companies, organizations should make it a priority to develop a crisis communication plan. The process can be simplified by putting in place a notification system that will simplify the process of alerting employees in case of an emergency. It should work with current repositories for employee contact information, which need to be kept up-to-date for effective notifications. It should also function as a single point for all notifications and be able to send out alerts through multiple channels, from computers to mobile devices, including voice and text notifications.

An effective crisis communication system should also provide two-way communication abilities, allowing employees to respond with their status and to send follow-up information that can help increase situation awareness and resolve emergencies. This ability also helps with personnel accountability requirements faced by government entities.

The survey results show how important it is for businesses to put in place a crisis communications plan as a part of their overall emergency preparedness strategy. Getting people the correct information as rapidly as possible can protect the business and its employees.

It may not be possible to predict crises, but organizations can act now to have the right tools in place to meet emergencies when they arise … and more quickly resume normal business operations.

Rear Admiral Robert Day, US Coast Guard (Ret.), is on the advisory board at AtHoc, Inc., and Principal at Bob Day and Associates LLC where he provides cyber and technology consulting services to public and private sector organizations. He is also executive director for the Commonwealth of Virginia Cyber Commission. He is the recipient of several military awards including the Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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