Whether it’s a pandemic, flood, hurricane, wildfire, or something else, when disaster strikes communication can minimize the chaos and help keep people safe. Here’s how.
Communication can’t wait until disaster strikes. Employees need to know what to expect from you. They should feel confident that you will do everything possible to protect them (and their families) and keep them safe.
Regular disaster drills will help workers understand what kinds of challenges and issues to expect at work and increase their confidence to function successfully in a disaster. However, it also is important to help workers be prepared for disasters off the job. Consider developing and circulating a checklist for workers. This should give them tips, including efforts they can take even when time and money are limited, such as:
- Have a family disaster plan in place. Where will you meet? How will you contact each other? Who will be responsible for what tasks (such as boarding up windows or moving valuables to a safe location).
- Have a bag packed with a change of clothing (for each family member), a flashlight, toiletries (toothbrushes, soap, etc.), a first aid kit, towels, a few dollars in cash, and other items. Keep it in a convenient location so you can grab it and go.
- Keep a list and photographs of values. This will facilitate easier insurance claims after a disaster.
- Make sure family members have important contact information for family members, police, and other resources in their phones. Keep an updated list posted on the refrigerator.
- Make arrangements in advance regarding where you will go in a disaster, for instance, to a friend or relative’s house a few towns over or in the next state.
- If bad weather and/or an evacuation is predicted, keep a full tank of gas. If you don’t have a car, make arrangements in advance to get a ride with a friend.
- If you have pets, determine in advance how you will care for them. Do local shelters accept pets? Can you take your pets with you to a friend’s or relative’s house?
Encourage staff to reach out if they have specific disaster-related questions or concerns. If they are confident that they can handle a disaster and that you have their back, they can focus on caring for residents and performing their jobs effectively and efficiently when trouble strikes.
Elsewhere, before, during, and after a disaster, it is important to remember:
- There’s not such thing as over communicating. It’s not overkill to send out 2-3 emails a day and schedule get togethers, meetings, or townhalls to keep people informed and giving them a chance to provide feedback and ask questions.
- Communicate even if you don’t have a major decision to report. Employees likely will be waiting to hear about big issues, such as when they will be expected to return to work (if they’ve been off), when power will come back on, and what damage to your organization’s buildings or property will be repaired. However, between big announcements, keep people informed. Send daily emails, texts, or online posts, even if it’s just to say that there are no updates or to provide an ETA on when more information might be available. You also can use these opportunities to commend staff for their loyalty, share information about churches or other organizations providing free meals, or let them know where they can get bottled water, take showers, do laundry, etc.
- It’s okay to change course when more information becomes available. As we learned during the pandemic, information can change quickly. When you update staff, stress that what you’re telling them is based on the best information available at the time. Let them know that there may be changes and that you will let them know when more information becomes available.
- Keep you ear to the ground for rumors, misconceptions, and misinformation so you can correct these promptly. At the same time, it’s important to listen to employees one-on-one when possible and give them a chance to express their fears and worries without fears of being ridiculed or judged.
- Make chains of communication clear. Let people know who they should contact (and how) about scheduling, callouts, or work-related problems. Have clear procedures and guidance about who will talk to the media and what information is appropriate to share.
When disaster strikes, it will be too late for planning. Put these efforts on your calendar and schedule meetings, brainstorming sessions, drills, and other efforts. This won’t prevent disasters from happening, but it will help protect your residents and your staff and enable everyone to recover as quickly as possible.