Tennessee fire

Know what’s worse than having a large-scale emergency in your hands? It’s botching your emergency communications. Remember the Gatlinburg wildfires last fall? WATE 6, the local ABC station, reported on the massive communications failure that followed, when orders to evacuate failed to reach recipients’ mobile devices.

Brenda Reimer, a Gatlinburg resident, recalls two firemen knocking on her door, ordering her to run. Rushing out with just the clothes on her back, Brenda believed there was only one escape route. “They didn’t tell me that you could come up [a different way] to a shelter or anything, so I headed to Newport and that road was terrible… trees across the road and everything.” Fourteen people died and 175 others were injured by the fires. Damage was estimated at more than $500 million as homes and towns were destroyed, reported CNN.

Precise and immediate information can make the difference between life and death, wrote Rick Wimberly for Emergency Management. “Long gone are days when a siren blasting a loud horn near and far was sufficient,” he argued. “Now, people want information that’s precise, pertains specifically to them and is available wherever they are regardless of what they’re doing.”

What’s more, “studies show people generally won’t take protective action unless they get an alert from at least two sources,” he added — hence the importance of layered emergency notifications in various formats and vehicles. And now that we have that capability, the audiences and community you serve expect it.

Edward Miller, also writing for Emergency Management, covered best practices by safety and security pros on delivering effective emergency notifications. Below we highlight five you can’t afford to leave out of your emergency response strategy:

  1. Preconfigure emergency scripts you can customize later to accelerate your response without sacrificing accuracy and efficacy.
  2. Write messages a sixth-grader can understand and digest in under 45 seconds.
  3. If messages are coming from a specific person or department, use that same source for subsequent messages related to the event. “Continuity breeds assurance,” Miller writes.
  4. Craft direct and detailed messages. Tell people who the message is from, what the emergency is, when/where it’s happening, what to do next, and where to get more information.
  5. Ensure you have the ability to manage the emergency using mobile technology, as you may have to do so from an off-site location.

You can’t control when a crisis will hit, but you can control how you respond to it. Take the time now to develop and test-drive an effective response — one that leaves you with minimal to no loss in the aftermath.