WHAT TO DO: An Emergency at the Office

We don’t like to think about it, but the possibility of an emergency affecting your business is real. Organizations of all types and sizes are susceptible. And although many situations will turn out to be false alarms or have minimal impact, businesses still need an emergency preparedness plan in place to ensure communications with employees are swift and effective. Another necessity? The right technology, including a modern mass notification system, to support such a plan.

Planning is essential because a crisis poses three related threats to your business: public safety, financial loss and reputation loss. Any one of these could have a lasting impact on your business and your employees.

For instance, severe weather such as hurricanes or earthquakes could impede your ability to operate, even causing damage to facilities that might take several months or years to repair. In 2017, national and man-made disasters caused $306 billion in economic losses worldwide – up 63 percent from 2016.  Forty percent of small- and medium-sized businesses that experience downtime due to disasters will not survive.

Then there are the types of tragedies that unfold at the hands of people, some intentional and some accidental. Although workplace shootings have captured news headlines, businesses need to be prepared for other types of unforeseen man-made incidents, including fires, chemical spills, and even the spread of illnesses such as the flu.

How To Plan For An Emergency

Businesses can mitigate such risks by planning ahead. A solid emergency preparedness plan coupled with a modern mass notifications system significantly reduces risk, keeps employees safe and maintains the integrity of your facilities.

In crisis preparation, it’s critical to remember how much different communications in the workplace are today compared to a decade ago. For example, in its early days, email was one of the quickest ways to share information. Today, however, as more people rely on their mobile devices, a text message is speedier and more reliable.

Issues also come to light faster thanks to the prevalence of IoT-enabled devices because alerts can be delivered automatically, without human intervention. For instance, if an intruder forces their way into a building, sensors can detect the breach and send alerts to employees, your security team and even the local police. Employee communications preferences and technology advancements should influence every part of your plan.

Worried you’ll miss something? What follows are a few tips for covering all the bases as you put together your emergency preparedness plan:

  • Incorporate feedback from across the organization. Every team works differently. Sales, for example, is often on the road working from smartphones and tablets. In the warehouse, team members work in shifts around the clock. Reaching the right people at the right time means documenting how, when and where each employee works.
  • Conduct scenario planning. Working with your cross-functional team, talk through potential emergencies. You’ll need to understand how they might unfold from start to finish. As you assess the risks, you can put plans in place for the most likely scenarios and identify communications requirements.
  • Establish an escalation path. When a crisis occurs, know who needs to be alerted. Executives and teams are constantly changing, so have a plan to keep this strategy updated.
  • Have a back-up plan. Consider how you’ll execute on your emergency notification plan if the power goes out, critical equipment is damaged or IT solutions are breached or compromised.
  • Debrief after events. Learn from the crises you face. Take the time after executing on your emergency plan to re-evaluate what went right and what went wrong. The lessons will prove valuable should similar situations occur.

What to ask about mass notification systems

The success of your emergency preparedness plan will hinge on the technology you choose to support it. You have to be confident alerts will reach the right person at the right time. That’s why you need a solution that meets the needs of the modern workforce and can reliably support the broadest possible range of communications devices, channels and alert levels.

As you assess your current system or evaluate new vendors, these are the questions to ask:

  • Is the platform capable of delivering both routine mass notifications as well as emergency alerts? The ability to handle both will ensure you get more out of your investment.
  • Does the platform support mobility? Does it offer mobile apps for iOS and Android devices? Remember that today’s workforce is mobile, so this is a must-have feature.
  • Is it capable of integrating with a wide range of hardware and software? Interoperability is critical because technology changes rapidly. The platform should be flexible to accommodate both the needs of today and adapt to future technologies.
  • How easily can it scale? Can it expand to support tens of thousands of devices, including desktop devices, mobile devices, overhead speakers, email, horns, strobe lights, digital signs and other communications channels? It’s important that your mass notification system grows with your business.
  • Does it allow you to create unlimited notifications, including live, pre-recorded or scheduled broadcasts? The flexibility to create messages ahead of time for any potential situation will allow you to respond faster – if the time comes.
  • Does it support notifications regardless of location? With a mobile workforce, it’s essential that employees can initiate notifications both on- and off-premises as well as send text message notifications to any location.

While the considerations above apply to all businesses generally, keep in mind that some organizations – such as schools and hospitals – will have unique needs. However, an emergency preparedness plan coupled with a robust mass notification system will benefit every business, allowing them to stay in control even as dynamic, high-risk situations unfold.

This article was first published by Mitel.

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