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Creating and Maintaining a Disaster Preparedness Plan, Communications

To communicate successfully — to share information that’s timely, clear, and concise — can be overwhelming. If you need to provide updates when faced with a stressful and changing situation, such as an extreme weather event, it’s helpful to plan long before any disruption knocks at your door. A framework will help you decide now how you will receive and share information so you can focus on what’s most important — staying safe.

While this post focuses on planning related to a natural disaster, it’s not limited to these events. I’m beginning to move away from the term “Disaster Preparedness”. Climate change means that extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace, and the global COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing; I’m exploring other words that both convey urgency for planning as well as understanding we live in a world of constant disruption. How can we mitigate their effect, share important information, and build resilience?

There are two main parts to successful communication: how you learn of information and what you send out.

Stay Informed

Please, don’t rely solely on social media to find out about potential disaster! But don’t ignore it either.

While I follow the National Weather Service on twitter and make many weather websites, I make sure I have other ways to learn about changes to my local weather. Both radio and local TV help me to stay informed. There’s always the tried-and-true method of looking out the window!

Weather terms, explained

The NWS terms can be confusing. I have a sticky note near my computer that explains them.

  • When they announce a weather advisory for my area, I read it and take note of when they’ll issue the next update, I stay aware. It’s possible that something could happen, but it’s likely only going to be a slight inconvenience. For example, I might regret leaving my raincoat at home, but it will likely be ok.
  • If it progresses to a weather watch, then I know it’s more likely the weather will change and I pay closer attention to when and where, I am prepared. In this example, I make sure that I have both my raincoat and a brimmed hat (I don’t like umbrellas).
  • For a weather warning, that’s when the forecast goes from maybe to very likely. There are many factors that influence weather, and it can rain in one part of town and be sunny in another. In this case, I take action, and bring my raincoat and plan any necessary travel with flood prone areas in mind. This is when I tend to geek out and review various radar maps and what meteorologists are predicting. It’s also when I confirm the laptop and phone battery booster are fully charged. You don’t have to go to my extremes!
  • Honestly, I didn’t think much about the highest level, until Ida when a Flash Flood Emergency was issued for the region. The priority is to be and stay safe.

Sharing Information

As a solopreneur this can be easier, but it’s also harder. While you are the one who decides everything, that means it also all falls on your shoulders. That can make it hard to do everything when you’re in the middle of trying to understand the situation and how you need to react. It’s a good idea to plan when you aren’t under stress. Concerned clients/customers will want to know you are safe and likely curious what they can expect in terms of work during and in the immediate days following a disaster.

Remember that landline (copper) telephones do not require electricity to work. Yes, I have a phone handset incase the power is out. Near it there is a laminated printout of key phone numbers and my account information: utility company, electrician, and certain personal contacts.

Three ways to share

It’s important to let others know that you’re safe and if you’re unable to open a physical location or meet deadlines. You know your clients and customers best. Here are three ways you can share information.

  1. Update your voicemail message and set automatic email replies. State if there will be delays.
  2. Add a note to the front page of your website (or as a banner on every page). Write a blog post and/or send a newsletter update. If you can’t personally make the edits, do you have someone who can.
  3. A note on social media can also be a good way to spread the word.

This doesn’t need to be an elaborate message. “Due to (event) the office will be closed until (date). I will contact you soon with further updates.”

Conclusion

While I’ve thought of natural environmental disasters as I drafted this series, disasters and business disruptions can come in many other forms. I hope this series helps you to think about actions you can take now so that when the unexpected happens you aren’t overwhelmed.

Additional Resources:

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Note: This is a 2021 update of a post initially published in 2016.

All posts in this series: