Disaster Communications: More Than a Phone Line Update

Continuity Magazine, published by the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) had an interesting article regarding “…Resilience in the Workplace.”  The author provided many valuable tips for corporations on how build resiliency within the work force (many ideas of which I’m quite familiar with from years of being in the industry), however there was a point in the article that caught my attention and it provided the spark for this article.

The thought was to bring together team members that aren’t part of the disaster team structure (i.e. those performing restoration and recovery efforts or those leading these teams) and were individuals that were sent home to wait for instructions.  Often, we know we are to communicate the status’ of situation to employees, stakeholders, Crisis Management Team/DR Team members, partners, suppliers, customers and clients and the thing all of these have in common is that a team is made up of people; people, not a product, service or some sort of commodity.  Therefore, we need to treat people as exactly that; people.

During a disaster, only a pre-selected (and hopefully trained) individuals are required to help restore, recovery and validate systems.  Only a select few are given tasks that relate to the disaster/crisis response; the rest may be sent home for further instruction.  This is where some additional issues can slowly creep into the fray.

It is one thing to send people home and ask them to check a phone line for updates; it’s another to actually communicate status’ and expectations with them.  For many employees, the expectation is to go home – when requested to leave for home – and monitor a phone line, website or email, for communications from the corporation (assuming of course the corporation has a communication strategy) but this only last for so long.

The website, email and/or phone messages must be consistent and provide enough information so that employees accessing the line understand what is actually occurring and how things are progressing.  Understandably, details may not be provided but a high-level overview of where things are can help people feel a part of the restoration and recovery efforts when they actually aren’t apart of those teams at all.

In addition, if after a couple of days the only communication is through the email, website or phone line, employees can begin to feel alienated and forgotten.  Not forgotten in the sense that they aren’t going to be needed as some point but forgotten because all they are getting is a phone message, which they probably have to dial into at certain specific designated time to get an update that doesn’t address any of their concerns or questions.

Many of today’s larger corporation have external parties that offer employee assistance (Employee Assistance Programs – EAP) but even here, they can only offer support and provide so much information.  If the EAP is the sole source of information, the employee once again can feel alienated and left to fend for themselves.  Corporations give the perception that they are shuffling off their staff to EAP and then turn around and focus on the restoration and recovery efforts.  That isn’t to say that corporation can’t use EAP’s to help but they can’t just shuffle the responsibility off to an EAP and expect employees to feel like they are being communicated with by the corporation.

It idea the author of the Continuity Magazine provided an interesting idea; create touch points/sessions that can bring together some of the employees sent home, so they can meet each other and bring forward their concerns and issues.  Sure, executives and DR teams are focusing on getting things back up and running but there is still a segment of employees that need to have some focus as well.

An idea could be to have one of the EAP representatives and/or a representative from the corporations Human Resources office organize an information session for those that have been sent home.  Ask them to attend a meeting at a hotel where they can come together and discuss the disaster and be reunited with their colleagues (of all levels).  If they can’t attend in person, provide a conference bridge or web access so they can follow along.  This will at least let employees know they are being looked thought of during a disaster (and being provided a platform to communicate concerns and receive information).   BTW, some of this might even be performed using notification software/applications but beware; it will take some time set up ahead of time and many individuals might not want to provide you with their contact information.  Still, this will at least give you a tool that’s easier to use (hopefully) to reach more people.

Corporations want a sense of community; a sense where everyone wants the corporation and all its employees to be successful.  But when a disaster occurs the focus goes to a select few and the rest can feel like they’ve been pushed aside only to be brought back when the corporation says they are needed again.  It can cause resentment amongst staff because they can’t share their stories and experiences with colleagues and aren’t being communicated with by the corporation; just a voicemail providing little information and continually asking to call back.  That isn’t communication.


 “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility” and “Made Again Volume 1 – Practical Advice for Business Continuity Programs”

by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3

Available at www.stone-road.com, www.amazon.com & www.volumesdirect.com


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