The 2018 hurricane season got off to a quick start, with the year’s first named storm, Alberto, forming on May 25 – a full week before the official start of the season. While Alberto was pretty mild as far as storms go, it was a healthy reminder that it’s never too soon to begin preparing your business for hurricane season, and that means revisiting – or, in some cases, creating – your communications plan.
While checking up on insurance policies and IT protocols may be common practice for companies of all sizes, implementing a clear communications game plan can be instrumental in helping businesses stay in touch with their internal and external audiences before, during and after a storm. We lived through this first-hand during Miami’s close encounter with Hurricane Irma in 2017.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to executing a plan, but here are five crucial steps that every business can take to ensure they’re storm-ready.
- Enlist a Storm Task Force – By centralizing the decision-making within a tight-knit team, you’ll stay nimble and keep information flowing. The Task Force should be charged with developing and executing the storm readiness plan. This group is the first line of defense in activating preparations ahead of a storm and making judgment calls in the days that follow, so choose the team wisely. Ideally, members should have the ability to leave town if a major storm is approaching, which will help ensure communications remain intact off-site.
- Create a Communications Game Plan: The master blueprint outlining the steps your company will take to stay in front of internal and external audiences can be as straightforward (or complex) as needed, depending on the nature and structure of your business. The plan should address how leadership will stay in touch with employees; how you will overcome technical hiccups if traditional methods of communications break down; and how you will anticipate and address the needs of clients – which can dramatically shift in a storm scenario. For example, when Hurricane Irma brushed South Florida last year, we counseled clients like the InterContinental Miami, which suddenly found itself serving the role of a shelter, and Walmart, which transitioned from equipping customers with supplies to coordinating relief efforts in the Florida Keys.
- How (and When) to Activate the Plan: The first step in putting your communications plan into action is knowing when to ‘press play.’ Generally speaking, we recommend activating storm protocols when a Tropical Storm Watch is issued, meaning storm conditions are possible within 48 hours. At that point, the Storm Task Force should make sure everyone understands the protocols in place and what’s expected of them. There should be no uncertainty about where people are going to be during and after a storm, how to contact them, and how they are going to be receiving information. By maintaining lines of communication , your company can identify and adapt to the specific needs of employees and clients – and lend help wherever possible.
- Fine-tune Your Pre- and Post-Storm Message: Keeping clients and external audiences abreast of your plans ahead of a storm is vital. Let them know what you’re doing, their assigned points of contact, and offer to help them with their own preparations. But what happens after the storm passes? When the Internet is down, the power is out, and your cell battery is drained you won’t have the luxury of crafting your message if you’re in the dark, so have a clear set of communications prepared – and make sure your Storm Task Force is ready to execute the plan. Clients and employees should never be in doubt about how your business has fared, how to get in touch with leadership, and what to do if they need help.
- Think Digitally: There’s a likelihood that your workplace will be offline after a storm. Roads could be flooded or filled with debris; the power could be out; your email server may be down. Because they can accessed remotely, social media and your company’s website should be leveraged as central sources of information updated by the Task Force in real time. This will help ensure employees, clients, the general public and the media have a way to stay informed. For example, Twitter is a helpful tool for staying up to date with useful information about a storm and its impacts, and WhatsApp is a great way to keep in contact with employees and clients.
The bottom line: Crises breed opportunity. In a storm-prone state like Florida, companies with a clear Hurricane Season communications plan are poised to shine in the eyes of their team members, clients and the outside world.