When an incident occurs, having an effective communication plan and procedures in place plays a vital role in the effectiveness of an organization. Communication plans are especially important when actively managing a situation and assessing where things stand at a given point in time.
Establishing communication protocols in advance of a true incident occurring will help you better prepare to manage real-life events and sift through the noise that accompanies an incident .
So you may be wondering, “where do I start?”:
- Coordinating and conducting tabletop exercises with your business continuity program colleagues and stakeholders is a great starting point to help test different outreach and interaction strategies.
- Realistic simulation exercises can also be leveraged to solicit participation and engagement with a wide range of people within your organization and potentially other outside groups such as first responders (local law enforcement, fire department, EMT/paramedic personnel, etc.)
- Extending the level of involvement in your exercise activities tests your ability to communicate effectively in both the sharing of information and providing updates throughout the exercise, as well as listening to participant feedback from a variety of perspectives.
Test exercise scenario candidates are often born out of an organization’s risk analysis results or other factors, such as geographical location, natural threats (e.g., local/regional severe weather patterns, wildfires, earthquakes, etc.), and even man-made threats (active shooter, arson, workplace violence, sabotage, etc.).
Best practice: Identify situations and scenarios that have a reasonable to high probability of occurring when planning out any incident and crisis management exercises and simulations.
Take for example, the Great ShakeOut earthquake drills, which focus on earthquake awareness and coordinated preparation exercises. According to, The Southern California Earthquake Center, the original ShakeOut campaign was coordinated and conducted in southern California back in October of 2008. The campaign had 5.4 million participants spanning eight counties, and was deemed a great success due to it’s relevance and participant buy-in. It was piloted in New Zealand the following year to test out the drill concept in a different region which shares the same high risk factors for seismic activity and significant life safety threat. The program again proved extremely successful in its participant adoption and has since evolved into regionally organized campaigns linked together as a worldwide preparedness movement that spans 70+ countries. More than 50 million people (and counting) are now involved in earthquake safety activities due to this program.
Unfortunately in today’s world, there is an increasing list of man-made threats that are very concerning and need to be taken seriously — terrorist plots, mass transit attacks/disruption, cyber attacks, data breach activity — ongoing communication and interaction are absolutely critical for incident management through such significant threats to human life, critical infrastructure stability, and exploitation of highly sensitive corporate and/or personal data.
To best prepare for managing high risk situations, which are often fast-paced and potentially volatile, it is very important to:
- Determine which communication channels (e.g., mobile phones, landlines, SMS/text messaging, email, etc.) are appropriate to target during an incident
- Determine how you would like to contact them when targeting your intended recipients (e.g., in a ‘blast’ to all devices simultaneously or in a specific ordered sequence).
These decisions should ideally be something that you and your organization figure out well in advance of an actual incident occurring, by measuring the effectiveness and success rates from recipient deliveries made during your test exercises.
When communicating during an incident, it’s important to:
- Share known information that is tailored to the appropriate audience(s) and to keep them informed at the same level from the inception of an incident to its’ conclusion.
- Strike the right balance between sharing important information and avoiding excessive communications that can overload people’s personal devices and email inboxes with too much information. This situation can lead to a sense of numbness where the person who you intend to engage with becomes desensitized and no longer gives your communication channels the attention that you and your company feel is deserved.
Dedicating time to execute risk relevant incident management exercises (at least annually) and to test the effectiveness of communication strategies will truly help your organization to learn and ultimately improve. This practice will also help to establish valuable metrics that can be used to evaluate the current strength and relevancy of your communications program, in addition to validating any noteworthy progress you’ve made year over year that you can share with your executive sponsors and stakeholders.