In emergency situations, whether that emergency is a natural disaster, a viral pandemic or some other widespread event, the ability to get current information in the hands of staff is imperative. Quick, accurate and up-to-date information keeps your staff and your patients safer. When that information changes by the day – or sometimes by the hour - the challenge becomes that much greater.
The problem of communicating effectively during a pandemic or emergent situation has been known for years. There is an excellent paper on the topic titled “Risk Communication in times of an epidemic or pandemic”, that was produced as part of the 4 year ASSET research project in Europe. The research provides insight into the challenges faced with communicating during these difficult times.
One of the key points it noted was that social media, while an excellent way to disseminate information quickly and globally, is subject in inaccuracy and rumor. It is certainly not where you want your employees getting their “information”, especially as it may relate to safety protocols or regulatory compliance.
As such, organizations should operate with a robust, multi-format, centralized communication system.
Centralized communication platforms give you the ability to update staff with the latest, most current information as soon as it is in your hands. It allows you to provide everyone with factual information, rather than the rumor and guesswork frequently found on social media. Most importantly, it allows you to monitor who has and has not reviewed the information, so that you can act with confidence on how you deploy your staffing resources.
Emergency Communication Plan
In a pandemic or emergency situation, the core of your communications strategy should derive from your Emergency Communication Plan.
While not a comprehensive list, key aspects of an Emergency Communication Plan include:
- Identify your leader. Who will be in charge of obtaining updated information? Is that same person responsible for disseminating that information to the rest of the company? Generally this individual will be the administrator and/or risk manager.
- Robust Information Distribution Systems. How will you share information throughout the company to ensure that everyone, including your clients, are current and updated? Email, E-blasts, text messaging are all good options, assuming the technology is working. Consider some backup communication options including walkie-talkies or other “low tech” styles.
- Plan For Off Hours Emergencies. What if the emergency occurs in the middle of the night? Do you have the ability to reach your staff if necessary? This is where an old-fashioned phone tree is valuable. In the event of an off-hours emergency, your communication leader should call a designated level of directors. Each director is responsible for contacting the staff members on their “tree” or list.
- Current Direct Contact Information. Be sure to have home phone numbers for your staff in your phone tree. Your staff will have their business phones turned off after hours, so you must have another way to reach them. It is also important this information is updated regularly.
A full emergency plan for your organization is always a good idea. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, you can check out the New York Community Health Center’s Emergency Plan. It is an excellent resource to use as an example. You may also want to have and review a copy of the FEMA Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has put together a report titled: Home Health Care During an Influenza Pandemic: Issues and Resources. It outlines some of the challenges Home Health Care organizations face during a pandemic, some solutions and additional resources. There is a checklist to help clarify your emergency response plan in Appendix B of that report.
How to Obtain Current Information.
During an emergency situation, you must get current information into your hands or the hands of your emergency response designee. Nothing can be shared without this basic step.
In the event of a pandemic, epidemic or other infectious disease situation, the CDC is your best choice for information. Go to their website and sign up for email alerts. Once you subscribe, you can select what information you want. You can select information on your geographical area or specific disease (i.e. updates on COVID-19). There is also more generalized information available that you may want to integrate into your business. When a new email arrives, your central designee can then follow your established protocol and email or e-blast the current information straight to the appropriate staff and/or clients.
In the event of a natural emergency, like wildfire, earthquake or flood, your better resource is your local county emergency department. Each county (and many municipalities) already have emergency response teams in place. Make sure your company is on their radar. It is a good idea to offer to become a part of that emergency response team. Doing so ensures you are kept informed and updated in the event of an actual emergency situation.
Be sure to identify who in your Emergency Communication Plan is responsible for collecting information, the process by which it is reviewed for applicability to your activities, and how it will then be communicated to your workers.