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Copyright (c) 2000 - 2014  Michael Arthur Johnson  - -  Revised 2 January 2014 -- 14:17


Disaster communications plan - "the silence is deafening" !

Copyright (c) 2005 - 2012, Mike Johnson, Disaster Response Planning Consultant

What's Happening in a Disaster Communication Plan

The old adage says: "the silence is deafening" !

A Google search on this phrase returns a long list of books, news articles on the mistakes and embarrassments of failing to communicate.

Again and again bad or no communication "happens" and it is sad because the damage may be done in precious seconds and then takes years and lots of energy to make it right.

Of course a lot depends on the situation, who and where are the interested parties from within your building to just down the street to around the world. The basic concepts are the same however, with only minor tweaks to fit the situation.

We will avoid another old adage "first you should do..." There are a lot of firsts to be done so unless you have some preplanning and prepared "canned" information ready to go at easy to access locations in the worst of situations your "firsts" will be a drawn out series of actions.

Don't get caught in that trap, please.

Plan, plan, plan and more preplanning is the key to a successful disaster communication plan. Then when "IT" happens: communicate, communicate and much more communication quickly is the lock to assure you look like an comfortable door to your employees; suppliers; clients; shareholders; interested world citizens; and don't forget your innocent neighbors just looking for a reason to gossip.

In your preplanning we recommend that the following be included as target deliverables to be stored in an easy to get to but secure location(s)... yes have a backup location, too.

In addition, if your organization uses the Incident Command System (ICS) for responding to disasters, then your plans should conform to your ICS system design plans.

The Communication plan may be either a part of the Information Officer's role or linked to this role. However, during the time when an incident is in process, all aspects of the Communication plan should be cleared with the Incident Commander before any information is released.

1. Communication mediums: paper copy; bulletin board; press release; telephone tree; remote telephone call center; remotely stored information for retrieval by others; out of area contact personnel, etc.

2. Templates and samples: canned statements and background information on key personnel, locations, customers, suppliers, charts, graphs and diagrams and maps for complex areas that would be difficult to communicate in written or spoken form. Also develop a set of forms to track various messages and a log form to document sources of information, decisions, management approvals, etc.

3. Easy to understand and train other instructions; "how to" note sheets
laminated in plastic so they won't get damaged in water, etc.

4. Develop a set of code words and phrases linked to detailed documents and instructions that can be shared and stored in remote locations and personnel so you don't have to struggle with detailed complex communication during stressful times. You may say over the hard to hear telephone line or perhaps by pager or SMS message: "code 123" and the receiver will pull out document 123 and implement the instructions contained in the document.

5. Working with management and technical/engineering personal develop a set of guidelines as to what information, topics, subjects are considered to be company/organization private and should not be discussed openly without a special set of approvals. Determine in advance what approvals are required and what is the procedure to obtain these approvals.

6. Develop a contingency plan should the computer where you have this information be stored does not work; there is no power or you can't get access to it. Don't prepare all the information on special software and spreadsheet files. Use simple easy to use (.txt) files and Multiple copy floppy disks; CDs; flash memory sticks and consider storing it all on a remote Internet server under password protection.

7. Develop relations and perhaps a contract with News Service agencies or Press Release agency services or subscribe to a disaster planning service. These agencies may be useful to you to add effective manpower to your staff during the difficult times of a response to a disaster.

8. Establish a set of technology based tools including Internet sites, BLOG sites, email addresses, Toll Free access telephone numbers, Internet telephone lines, and satellite telephone and FAX lines.

9. Prepare a detailed training plan to train the potential responsible people in the organization that will need to be involved. Be sure to include personnel "up" the organization including top senior management and support personnel like telephone operators; lobby receptionists and weekend security guards.

10. Should the time come, be prepared for the wolves in reporters clothes! Have "spotters" on the lookout for those with microphones and notepads and make sure they don't get the wrong story from the wrong person. Make sure the security guards; parking lot attendants; elevator operators; engineers; receptionists; telephone operators and on and on know how to spot a reporter. Make sure the newshounds are controlled and herded to the proper spot where the trained designed spokesperson is in control.

11. Finally develop a testing plan and schedule periodic realistic tests of the plan. Use realistic scenarios and role play techniques to add realism to the drill.

In conclusion if all else fails, use good common sense. Communicate as much as your organization is comfortable with as quickly as possible. Communicate in simple language using short clear statements. Use pictures, charts, and easy to read overhead slides to make sure that the important items/aspects are coming across to the receiver.

If you have limited communication methods, then exercise your remote locations and stored canned messages using code words, SMS messages, etc to broadcast the desired information.

Under all circumstances, obtain management approval prior to releasing any information outside of your organization. Be sure and use your log forms developed in area 2 above to document each communication and who approved it and to whom it was sent.

Plan, Organize, Lead and Control the flow of your communication to your benefit before others take the advantage from you by default!

Copyright (c) 2005 - 2014, Mike Johnson, Disaster Response Planning Consultant

Preparing your home or business is not the only part of a disaster plan. 

You also need to prepare yourself and all the family members.

Some questions before you start:

1. Do you have an Out of Area contact person selected?

2. Do you have school age children?

3. Do you have either good friends or relatives out of the area where you could store an envelope with copies of important documents?

4. Do you live in a single family house? Own or rent?

5. Do you and/or your significant other work in walking distance or within
30 minutes of your home?

6. Are your children's schools within 30 minutes of your home by walking?

7. Are you close to electric power lines or possible chemical storage

8. Do you like to eat rice?  (Tell you why later)

9. Do you have a gas powered lawn mower?

10. Do you have a gas fired BBQ or charcoal BBQ at home?

Copyright (c) 2005 - 2014, Mike Johnson, Disaster Response Planning Consultant