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Nick Hawkins discusses how, in crisis situations, organizations can use employee communications platforms to identify who is affected, communicate instructions quickly, and receive quantifiable responses from those who might be at risk.

Business today is global. In the event of an emergency or crisis situation, secure, effective and reliable two-way communication with employees is crucial. Modern workforces are mobile, so businesses of all sizes need to ensure that the bilateral lines of communication between management and staff remain open, whatever the situation.

It is a difficult task for organizations to manually keep track of employee’s locations, schedules and travel plans at all times, as they often change quickly. The solution is to utilise the power of a cloud-based, multi-modal critical communications platform to implement crisis management plans that will help to keep businesses operational and effective in the event of an emergency, ensuring that staff are safe and protected.

Creating a strategic, non-intrusive, fail safe communications plan can be challenging. Today crisis communications software can help businesses to communicate with employees in any circumstances but what should businesses look for in an emergency communications platform?

In a crisis no single delivery path is ever 100 percent reliable, 100 percent of the time. For this reason, emergency notifications must be multi-modal, using every available contact path to communicate with employees until delivery is acknowledged.  Software must also be scalable and readily available. The only way to guarantee that crisis alerts and communication reach employees is to adopt a cloud based, multi-modal solution which enables users to quickly and reliably send secure messages to all members of staff, individual employees and specific target groups even when traditional routes are unavailable. 

These mass notifications are sent out through multiple contact paths which include: SMS messaging; emails; VOIP calls; voice-to-text alerts; app notifications and many more.  In fact, with cloud-based software installed on an employee’s smartphone, there are more than 100 different contact paths that businesses can use to communicate and send secure messages to their workforce.  This is a crucial area where cloud-based platforms have an advantage over other forms of crisis communication tools; unlike call cascade systems and SMS blasters of the past, emergency notifications are not only sent out across all available channels and contact paths, but continue to be sent out until the recipient acknowledges them.

Wi-Fi enabled devices have proved invaluable in terms of crisis communication and business continuity during emergency situations. During the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016 the GSM network went offline, making standard mobile communication impossible.  The citizens of the Belgian capital were unable to send messages to family, friends and work colleagues.  The team at Brussels Airport made its public Wi-Fi discoverable and free of a network key, allowing anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device to connect, send and receive messages.
For crisis management and business continuity, the flexibility that multi-modal functionality provides is essential to ensuring that a high level of response is received quickly when emergency communications are sent.

Getting the right response

The first hurdle is communicating with employees when a crisis takes hold, the second is receiving quantifiable responses. Businesses must seek a solution that offers a two-way polling feature meaning that businesses can design bespoke templates to send out to staff in the event of an emergency. This enables employees to quickly respond and inform the company as to their current status and whether they are in need of any assistance.   Being able to send out notifications and receive responses, all within a few minutes, means businesses can rapidly gain visibility of an incident and react more efficiently to an unfolding emergency.

The importance of location information

Crisis communication plans are far more effective when supported by effective location information.  Easy access to accurate location information means a business can take a risk-based approach to targeting communications.  For instance, if you had a sales force operating at various locations across a city when a series of terrorist attacks happen, how do you know exactly where your people are and which ones might be in danger?  Some companies use GPS tracking dongles but these are expensive and liable to be lost or stolen.  It could also be argued that they are intrusive as they cannot be turned off.  Employees want to be safe in the event of an emergency but they may also have concerns about their privacy. 

The answer is to capitalise on information that is already being collected and use it smartly to understand more about where an employee might be.  Employees already provide information on where they are in various different ways.  For example, when employees log on to a company Wi-Fi network it is safe to assume they are in a certain building.  Furthermore, access pass information (which is being collected anyway) also provides insight into location.  By combining this data, the employer can understand where someone is located without needing to generate additional location information or cause concern amongst employees that they are being tracked. 

This is a way that organizations can then receive regular updates regarding their employees’ last known location, and deliver relevant alerts.  In a crisis situation, the employer has a better idea where people are, allowing incident management teams to co-ordinate a more effective response and communicate with these people effectively (especially during a building or room specific event, like an active shooter). 

In addition, organizations can leverage travel itineraries and corporate travel systems so that in event of a global incident, organizations can determine if they have any employees travelling to the affected area, and then distribute alerts accordingly.

In combination, by leveraging access control, Wi-Fi and travel data, organizations have dynamic employee location data (actual and expected locations), rather than merely static office address and contact information.

Staying connected

For any organization, the protection of its workforce in the event of an emergency is of paramount importance; infrastructure can be rebuilt over time whereas people’s lives cannot. Organizations need to have crisis communication plans in place that work in real-life, not just on paper. An essential part of this process includes utilising the most effective technology to help businesses communicate with their employees quickly, reliably and securely in any situation and enable it to protect its staff members who find themselves at risk during an emergency.

The author

Nick Hawkins is the managing director EMEA of Everbridge.

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