Best Practices in Emergency Alerting: Keeping Mobile Workers Informed

By Raju Rishi

Rave Wireless

In the energy field, mobile workers are critical to increasing productivity and streamlining operations. The downside of having a dispersed workforce, often in remote locations, is inefficient communications. Emergency scenarios, especially in this industry, are an unfortunate reality and require quick, thoughtful and effective response in order to safeguard employees, as well as the public.

Should you face a dangerous weather advisory or even a traffic incident that will affect the way your employees are executing their jobs, mass notification is the quickest and easiest way to reach them. The decision to implement an emergency notification system is an easy one, but difficulty arises when deciding which type of system to use. What form should it take? Should we use email? SMS? Or even a web-based portal for pertinent information?  With workers spread out across several geographic locations, and many being out of reach, most organizations choose a multi-modal approach.

Weighing the options
In order to develop an effective, multi-modal alerting strategy, it is important to understand your existing infrastructure’s capabilities and also incorporate new communications capabilities to maximize effectiveness. For example, if you have an existing PBX telephone system, you may want to consider using voice alerts for those employees located in an office setting, where you know the message will be received. On the other hand, for remote workers, a mobile alerting system will work best to reach them anytime, anywhere. It is important to prioritize emergency communications based on the preferred method of communications for each group. You will also want to consider external audiences and how you will communicate with these groups – a voice conferencing solution may apply, or even a solution that will allow for video and data communications. These types of communications would also be appropriate for security personnel who are responsible for communicating to employees and other groups.
Planning is Key
With many parties involved in an emergency, from planning to execution to response, it’s important to have a taskforce of people appointed beforehand, and trained properly, in order to execute emergency communications. Identify the emergency team, each participant’s role and a clear chain of authority ahead of time for more effective response times. Be sure to include all relevant parties, such as security, human resources, IT and outside resources such as law enforcement and first responders. Once your taskforce is in place, establish procedures for each emergency scenario, ensuring that during an emergency, there are no questions as to who does what and what steps should be taken. In order to insure that those procedures are effective, they will need to be tested, and re-tested. A few simple best practices can make a significant difference. 
  • Create an emergency notification “dictionary” of unambiguous language that will not cause confusion for your audience, and test it to be sure there is no confusion.
  • Create a plan for communications by audience, defining who will need to know specific information and how you will relay that information.
  • Consider using an external source for inbound inquiries, such as an informational website or phone number, to minimize inbound calls that will tie up your infrastructure.
  • Identify one or two individuals to be principal alert senders and train them on using the notification system.
  • Decide how often you will share information with each audience, whether it’s every 30 minutes or only when new information is available and communicate that to all audiences so they know what to expect.
  • Create message templates for alerts with fill-in-the-blanks for dates and other key information.
Communication for Communications
Having a proper system in place and a clearly defined plan is useless unless it is properly communicated to the recipients. When an emergency occurs, employees should know exactly where to get information on the incident and how to respond. How you deal with external resources, such as first responders, is equally important. Periodically testing systems (at least semi-annually), processes and people will increase your system’s effectiveness. Where possible, involve as many constituents as possible and conduct different types of practice sessions – just first responders, broader constituents, etc. Unfortunately, the risks facing our organizations and the people in them are complex and only seem to increase in complexity over time. While it’s obviously impossible to foresee every event that might occur, it is entirely possible to build a practice that protects and prepares us for many of the trials that await us. 
Author – Raju Rishi is the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Rave Wireless, Inc. His long-standing career in software & telecommunications has afforded him a rich understanding of the complex relationships between wireless carriers, content providers, application providers and consumers, which he utilizes to oversee Rave’s strategy and marketing.
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