No False Alarms! Emergency Communications as Part of Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Hawaii’s false alarm incident earlier this year was a teachable moment for organizations — how prepared is yours when it comes to emergency communications? While you’re probably not responsible for notifying an entire state about an incoming attack, you are responsible for telling stakeholders what’s going on if there’s an emergency.

Emergency communications as part of your Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) often get overlooked. Here’s a summary of how to plan:

Determine who you should communicate with

Your emergency communication plan can be a critical component of your DPR’s incident response plan, especially if you have a large or dispersed team. Begin your planning with a stakeholder analysis. List all of your internal and external stakeholders — such as your employees, managers, directors, customers, investors, partners, suppliers, communities, constituents, creditors and regulators — and make sure you have their contact information. List them in order of priority and make note of any names that belong on more than one list.

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Determine what each group will need to know (and when)

Different stakeholders have different “need to knows.” For example, leadership will need to know top-line information immediately and be updated regularly (of course) and all employees will need to know where to go to do their work or, possibly, evacuate procedures. Customers will need to know how the situation affects them and so will suppliers and vendors.

Regardless of the stakeholder group, everyone needs to know when they can expect things to get back to normal.

Prepare messages in advance

Craft clear messages for all stakeholders, from the initial alert, to updates, to the final resolution. You’ll want different versions for different types of emergencies — a flood is different from a ransomware attack. You may also need to prepare additional communications about disaster-related operations like ad hoc spending approvals, team logistics, ongoing supplier and vendor communications as events change, and messages about other processes that are out of the ordinary. A PR firm that specializes in crisis management can help you with planning.

Pre-populate your communications platform

Enter each message into your communication platform — don’t leave any decisions to make during an actual incident because tensions will be high and staff may not be available. If the messages aren’t ready to go or end up being insufficient, confusing, or just plain wrong, it will only make the situation worse and could even trigger scrutiny from compliance regulators depending on your industry.

Use a cloud-based platform

You have a lot of different emergency communication tools to choose from. Choose one that’s in the cloud. If you rely on a solution that runs on local infrastructure and your location loses power, you lose your emergency communications system. Popular cloud-based platforms, including Onsolve, AlertMedia, and Everbridge, can communicate with stakeholders via phone, text, email, social media, app push notifications, and other delivery paths.

If you currently have your emergency communications running on infrastructure you own, consider migrating it to the cloud soon or at least the next time you need to upgrade equipment. It’s not necessary to overthink which cloud system to use, because being the cloud, you can always switch later if your needs change or you find a better deal. The most important thing is to choose a proven platform that can deliver your emergency communications if your location is out of commission.

Test your emergency communication system

Make sure to test your system regularly, including your verification process, so you don’t make a State-of-Hawaii mistake. Give multiple administrators the authority to initiate the system in case one administrator is unavailable and come up with a plan to guard against false alarms. Also remember to keep your system updated with the latest stakeholder information and messaging. Your full-scale DR tests should also include an emergency communication test.

Leapfrog provides DR services for managed service clients and as a stand-alone service. When DR is part of managed services, Leapfrog can operate as part of your incident response team. We have two regionally diverse data centers, so one is always available. Clients located outside the Atlanta region like having their DR team in another part of the country, so it’s less likely a natural disaster will impact both places. If something does happen, the Atlanta team can run point on DR and related communications while the client deals with the emergency. If your DR operation could use some fine-tuning or upgrades, please give us a call at Leapfrog. We’re here to help.

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