Business Continuity Plan: 5 Essential Community Outreach Tips
An organization or business’ relationship with the greater-community will influence that organization’s ability to protect personnel, fixed and mobile assets, vital asset data and swiftly return to normal operations. In previous discussions we have reviewed the importance of the public-private partnership, and the private sector’s commitment and responsibility to their community at large. While local businesses play an integral role in the resilience of their community all organizations, from the tiniest mom-and-pop outfit to the largest corporations must involve outside organizations in their emergency management plans. It is important to note that business leaders are also community leaders; that being said, if public offices, emergency managers, and first responders have not designated you as a point of contact for the community or if you have not clearly established your role as a spokesperson or point of contact for the community, your efforts will, in fact, be detrimental to the recovery efforts.
Here are five tips for involving the greater-community in any organization’s emergency management, disaster preparedness, or business continuity plan:
Maintain an open dialogue – Open lines of communication between community leaders, community organizations and utilities departments, first responders, government agencies, and business leaders is the only way to bolster resilience. Business leaders are also community leaders, so executives should take it upon themselves to schedule regular meetings with community emergency personnel to review emergency plans and procedures. Talk about what you’re doing to prepare for emergencies; explain your concern for the community’s welfare and discuss the resources you can make available in a disaster scenario. It is important to establish common interests and concerns – this is where resource and information sharing become essential. Beyond meeting with emergency personnel and first responders businesses should engage citizens to determine their needs and concerns regarding disaster scenarios.
Whether they can verbalize their concerns or not community members want to know:
- What are the different hazards in potential disaster scenarios?
- What programs are in place to respond to emergencies?
- How will a disaster affect the community?
- What is the community’s role during a disaster?
- What is your facility’s role in a disaster scenario?
- What services will your organization provide?
Furthermore, businesses should sponsor and lead disaster drills and exercises that involve community fire, police, and other first responders. Volunteer your facility as a common meeting ground and lead walk-through tours with community response groups. Positioning your business at the core of your community’s disaster response efforts not only helps the community, it ensures your business is protected as well.
Establish mutual aid agreements – to avoid confusion and conflict in an emergency scenario, establish mutual aid agreements between your business and first responders. Mutual aid agreements can address any number of activities or resources that might be needed in an emergency such as:
- Providing for firefighting and HAZMAT response
- Providing shelter space, emergency supplies, and medical attention for displaced community members
- Providing business facilities to act as a common-meeting during an evacuation
These agreements should:
- Clearly define the type of assistance each party will provide
- Identify the chain of command for activating and realizing that agreement during a disaster
- Define the communication channels and point-of-contact personnel between the two parties
Mutual aid agreements imply a mutually beneficial relationship, so make sure those first responders are included in training exercises whenever possible.
Community Service – In community-wide emergencies, businesses and organizations of all sizes are often asked to assist the community with: personnel, equipment, shelter, training, storage, shelter facilities, funding, and transportation. There is no way to predict the demands a community could place on your company’s resources. Consequently, it helps to be proactive and engage the community before a disaster. Take it upon yourself to organize non-perishable food and medical supply drives, spearhead community outreach events that engage citizens, identify potential vulnerabilities in community infrastructure and work with the public to remedy those gaps in preparedness.
Public Information – When disasters strike the community will want to know the nature of the incident, the disaster’s effect on the public’s safety and health, and most importantly, what is being done to actively remedy the situation. As a community and business leader your role is to leverage your visibility as a public figure to address these questions reliably and confidently. Determine the audiences that may effected by an emergency situation and deliver your message directly to them. Provide thorough and straight forward answers; be sure to include all vital community organizations such as emergency management agencies, public offices, religious groups, etc.
However, it is vitally important to note: DO NOT over step your boundaries. Sending conflicting or unauthorized messages is extremely detrimental to the recovery process, so if you have not established your role as a liaison or point of contact between the public and public offices and first responders prior to the incident, then do not begin to act in that capacity during the incident.
Media Relations – In a disaster scenario the media are the most important link to the public. Develop and maintain positive relationship with media outlets in your immediate community. Determine the local media’s needs and interest, just as you did with citizens and community organizations. Clearly explain your contingency plans for making available your business’ resources and personnel to help in a disaster scenario. Moreover, establish a communications plan with local media and determine how to convey important information, vital to public safety, to those media outlets during an emergency:
- Designate a trained spokesperson, and alternate spokesperson, from your organization to represent your business during an emergency. This person should be confident and articulate.
- Make sure to set up a media briefing area in your facility, if your business has been identified as a common-meeting area during an evacuation or disaster scenario
- Establish security procedures
- Establish procedures for ensuring that information is complete, accurate, and approved in an expedient manner for public release
- Determine an appropriate and useful way of community techinal information
- Prepare background information about your business’ and facility’s capabilities in advance of a disaster scenario.
Do’s of Media Relations:
- Do give all media equal access to information
- When appropriate conduct press briefings and provide interview opportunities to local and national media alike
- Do observe media deadlines
- Do escort media personnel to ensure safety
- Do keep records of all information released
- Do provide press releases whenever possible
Don’ts of Media Relations:
- Do not speculate on the incident
- Do not engage with media as an authority figure if you have not been predesignated to do so – conflicting messages are the most detrimental factor in recovery efforts
- Do not permit unauthorized personnel to release information
- Do not cover up or misrepresent facts to the media
- Do not place blame on any one person or organization during the recovery efforts.