It’s about 5:33 AM on Sept 12, 2008 as I type this. As a company we have been through numerous hurricane preparation drills. Katrina was a scare, Rita was an evacuation challenge, but this time with Hurricane Ike we are finally going to get hit here in Houston. Not a good thing.
The office is of course closed today. We’ve tweeted about it. Client newsletters sent. Email exchanges with our crisis communication firm Firestorm and our PR firm. Discussions with vendors and critical web sites in case of handling emergencies in Houston. Our employees are all safe and accounted for.
One thing we are doing different this time is we are testing Yammer for crisis communication with the team. It is like twitter, but restricted to just company
email addresses. So we can have a more private conversation about how
we can stick together during the crisis using text messages, following,
and longer than 140 character conversations. And that last part is
important, in a crisis I just need to paste in the URL like http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/biz/5995981.html. I do NOT have time to go make a tinyURL during a crisis. Right? Who does?
The hurricane hasn’t hit yet, but I can share some lessons learned on pre-hurricane preparedness and communication.
- We already knew this, but it is all about if the FAMILY has an emergency plan. Just make sure people HAVE a plan!
- People are available or not depending on where they live. Know this
ahead of time. Some people have to evacuate based on their location,
which is fine, just insulate the company from them as part of the
response team because they will not be available.
- Spouses and significant-others are a major factor. And they will
talk about the leadership of the company publicly if they feel you
aren’t being responsive. Don’t take it personal. Even if they don’t
have their facts right.
- Parents are a major factor. Especially for Generation Y
(Millenials) they get panicked calls from their parents. Like 50 of
them. (seriously) So even if they are prepared are level headed, the
pressure is pretty strong for them to react without necessarily
following the Mayor’s advice.
- The local news will always be reckless and sensationalistic.
- Emergency binders only work if you have them updated.
- IT plays a big part, suddenly everyone says things like "oh ya, my
blackberry hasn’t been syncing lately" and this is a REAL problem when
everyone goes into the field.
- Specs will be crowded. Expect this. Ahhh, humans.
- Long lost relatives and friends will call to say "what are you
doing? I saw it on the news!" while you are either evacuating or
preparing to shelter in place. Luckily yammer provides a semi-private
forum to vent about this.
The biggest new technology we are using for Ike Hurricane Preparation versus Rita/Katrina prep are:
- Twitter. Many of us are on twitter and the community is definitely larger than the company alone.
- Yammer – we have hopes this will be a valuable employee only crisis communication tool.
- MXLogic – disaster recovery for email in case our building loses power (client email is not on site).
Technology that we already depend on that we expect will continue to be critical include email and text messaging.
Hopefully Ike will chill out and people will stop with the Tina
Turner jokes. But if not, we are prepared and I’ll let y’all know how
the new technology works as part of a comprehensive crisis response and
communication plan. Wish us luck!