Today’s businesses are tech savvy enough to understand the importance of having a disaster recovery (DR) strategy as a part of their business continuity planning (BCP) process. It’s no longer a nice option to have—it’s a necessity. Could your business survive a disaster without the critical hardware and software, data, and systems it relies on to operate? For all organizations the answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”
However, an often-overlooked or underdeveloped part of a DR plan is a communications plan for your internal and external stakeholders. Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of the complexity of protecting databases, computer networks, and sensitive personal information. In such a high-stakes environment, engineering, equipment, and infrastructure can get the lion’s share of attention, and the basics of communication and messaging can get lost in the shuffle.
Poorly managed crisis communications, to both internal or external audiences, can compound the negative impact of a business interruption. Sparse, inaccurate, or confusing information during a crisis not only risks damaging your brand with customers and partners, but it also causes issues that trigger unnecessary and unwelcome scrutiny from compliance regulators.
Flexible Crisis Communications Planning
Most companies tackle the communications outline as part of their larger BCP and DR planning. Some name a senior leader as the company’s spokesperson and form an internal team to carry out the details. Others use consultants or vendors who specialize in business continuation planning to lead the effort. Whichever you choose, remember to give the communications plan ample focus and energy—before you need it.
Your emergency communications plan must describe how your organization will respond to a business interruption caused by any number of factors—severe weather, fire, cyberattack, and workplace injury, to name a few. So it has to be flexible enough to address a variety of emergency situations and to work with your internal and external audiences.
Identify who you will need to notify immediately should a disaster take place. Who are your spokesperson or persons? Clarify how these people are empowered to communicate on your company’s behalf. Decide how you will notify your stakeholders of an incident and what you will tell them.
“Be prepared to communicate. This is an element of response that is often overlooked and needs to be continually practiced,” states Karen D. Hamel of Occupational Health and Safety Online.
Paul Kirvan, a business continuity consultant, educator, and author writes in TechTarget.com that an emergency communications plan must be able to:
- Launch quickly
- Brief senior management on the situation
- Identify and inform the company spokesperson of the situation
- Prepare and issue company statements to the media and other organizations
- Organize and facilitate broadcast media coverage
- Provide information about the event and procedural instructions to employees and other stakeholders
- Communicate with employee families and the local community
- Adapt to changing events associated with the emergency
How to Get Started
The best way to start shaping your communication plan is to organize your most important contact information, as well as your emergency procedures, into a comprehensive document for immediate reference in the event of a disaster. Make sure you have everyone’s current contact information to reach employees, their families, clients, vendors, and regulators, too. These lists should answer the following questions:
- Who are the decision makers and who are the spokespersons?
- Who will notify the first responders and who will manage contacting the other stakeholders?
- What information must remain confidential and what can be shared publicly?
- How will you manage a building evacuation?
- How fast will your IT team be able to mobilize to begin disaster recovery?
Your data center employees or data center service provider should be high on the call list, so you can be certain your data remains safe and in good working order. Leading data centers, like OnRamp, have full-time onsite support and monitoring, and are well-placed so that they remain geographically independent of your business. Secure data centers are designed to deal with disaster recovery effectively.
The right time to create your plan is now, while urgency and stress level is low—don’t wait for a crisis to hit. Also, ensure your emergency communications documents updated.
Use Modern Communication Tools
Your plan should anticipate the use of multiple modes of communication to notify stakeholders that a disaster is about to happen or is in progress. Alerting systems should combine standard and mobile phones, text messages, email, social media, and notifications to desktop and mobile devices. They also should link to traditional systems such as sirens, lights, public address systems, and digital signs. It is essential to deliver notifications through multiple communication methods to ensure everyone who needs to be alerted receives the message loud and clear.
Test and Refine
Once you have completed drafting the plan, review it to be sure that the procedures are clear and that your materials, such as news release forms and media contacts, are up to date. Train key staff members on how to implement the action steps in the plan, and schedule regular tests of your emergency communications plan. Organize a dry run for your crisis communications plan each time your company experiences significant change, which could include anything from business expansion, the introduction of new technology to the addition of high-level staff members. According to “The BCI Emergency Communications Report 2015” by Everbridge, 47% of organizations cited lack of understanding as the primary cause of their emergency communications failure (467 organizations from 67 countries were polled). Avoid being part of this statistic by regularly practicing your plan and educating new employees.
Finally, update the plan as needed. Your emergency communications plan is a living document. Don’t leave up on a shelf, collecting dust. Remember this overall guiding principle, should a disaster strike and your emergency communication plan be pressed into service: Resolve as an organization to provide the relevant facts as they are available, get them out quickly to your internal and external audiences, follow up frequently, and be truthful about the situation.
Need more information about how to plan for disaster recovery? Download OnRamp’s whitepaper, “Guide to Disaster Preparedness for the SMB.”
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