“Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.”
We’ve all heard that adage a thousand times before. No place is that more true than in emergency management.
Nobody wants a crisis to happen. However, we all know that the world is unpredictable and, eventually, there will be an emergency in our buildings or on our campuses. Hopefully, it’s something small and manageable, but we must always prepare something much bigger.
The success of your emergency response depends heavily on your preparation. Training, planning, and executing are key.
Part of that response is communications. When it comes to emergency notification, planning what you are going to say is absolutely essential. You won’t have much time to think about those first messages in a crisis. They have to be planned ahead of time.
We all know that our messages must go out on many different media to be successful. Omnimodal alerting is the only way to ensure a widespread message to a large population. Texts, emails, voice calls, digital signs, desktop alerts, and even social media are all tools in your communications tool chest.
Many mobile media formats have strictly limited lengths, such as SMS’s 160 character maximum or Twitter’s even shorter 140 character maximum. How do we get a consistent, short message out in a such limited space? Templates.
Templates are a core part of your message planning.
Here at Omnilert, I get to work with schools, hospitals, and large companies every day in developing their messaging strategies. The number one topic that I see overlooked is message templates. So, I’ve decided to share the best I’ve seen.
Here are 5 key emergency message templates that every organization needs… and, more importantly, why.
1. General Security Alert (Initial Message)
Security Alert @ [Your Organization]
Shelter in place. Lock doors/windows. Await further info. [DATE] - [YOUR URL] for more info.
Why this works:
This template is the initial message that your organization can safely issue in a security incident. We stay away from the term “lockdown” here, as it’s often impossible to truly “lockdown” an open organization or campus. (People can still wander in.) Also, the word “lockdown” may induce panic when we want people to stay put.
This kind of template is an initial response. It’s generic on-purpose. In most cases, you won’t have all of the details about the situation for some time, but you need to get the community to safety. For this reason, we keep that first message short and to the point.
You’ll notice that we also date stamp this message. Why? Because there’s always stragglers. Someone’s phone will be charging, or they’re on a plane or vacation. Then, when they get the message days later, they won’t cause a panic if they know when the alert was first issued.
Inserting a short URL to your emergency info website is a nice touch, as you can post much more info online and keep the public in the loop as needed without blasting your text/email/phone lists with too many messages too often.
2. Weather Closing
Organization closed on [DATE]
[Your Organization] is closed today, [DATE], due to inclement weather. For more info, visit [YOUR URL]
Why this works:
Short and sweet, and fits any weather situation.
We often see folks want to tell people to “stay warm” when it’s cold, or “stay dry” when it rains. There’s no need for that in a text. Just let folks know that your facility is closed today. They’ll appreciate your candor and pay attention.
We put in the date twice because we want clarity. There’s no mistaking when you will be closed.
Your sender doesn’t need to “overthink” this one. Just grab the template and let it fly.
(Shameless plug: Hopefully your ENS allows you to embed date/time variables in templates like Omnilert does!)
3. Power Outage
Power Outage @ [Your Organization].
We are aware of power outage. Repairs underway. For emergencies call [Phone Number]. More info [YOUR URL].
Why this works:
Again, we’re aiming towards a target of 140 characters here, so brevity is good!
Let folks know where the issue is and that you know. It’ll cut down on calls of “Hey, is the power out?”. Giving out your emergency call number is a nice touch, in case you need to route calls to another number due to the power outage.
4. Email / Network Outage
Email Outage [DATE] [TIME]
[Your Organization] email/network systems down. Techs are working towards a fix. More info [Your URL]
Why this works:
While it may not be “life or death”, an IT outage can be a real hassle and disrupt your campus for hours.
The number one problem during an IT outage is the fact that your IT team gets bombarded with phone calls: “Is email down?”... “Is the internet down?”... “Are my emails gone?”... you’ll hear it all. Someone has to field those calls. That someone is usually the same IT professional who needs to fix the problem.
So, do your IT nerds a favor; send a quick note out to let folks know that you already know about the problem. It’ll help cut down on calls and let your team get busy fixing the problem.
You can post more specific updates to your organization's tech blog/status web page, which should be short-linked in the template.
5. Active Shooter
SHELTER IN PLACE IMMEDIATELY. Armed intruder @ [Your Organization]. Police are responding. More to follow. [Your URL] [DATE]
Why this works:
Short and urgent. We want people to shelter in place and make no mistake about it, they will.
We all hope this template never gets used. However, the sad fact is that it must exist. You must be ready to send this at a moment’s notice. You won’t have all the details. You never will have enough detail. Get this notice out to your people at the first report of a gun. It could save a life.
You’ll include the usual information at the end, like your URL and a date/time stamp.
We want this one to be as short as possible to make sure it’s read quickly and action happens. You can follow up later with more details.
I hope you’ve noticed a pattern with these templates. They all contain general information. There are no real details in them, purposefully.
When it comes to an emergency, you often won’t have all the facts until it’s too late. So, your first-response templates need to reflect that.
You’ll also notice that I’ve alluded to an “emergency information website”. You should have just such a thing. It’s important to provide a unified source of info for your organization. An emergency web page can include important links, documents, communications policy info, phone numbers, radio stations to listen to, and even a sign up for your emergency notification system. Make sure that site is easy to update and mobile friendly.
Your templates should include just enough info to keep people safe and point them in the right direction for more information.
If you hesitate too long, people will be at risk and the rumor mills on Twitter and Facebook will become the source of news. Confusion will spread. Whatever sounds the most sensational will get passed around and eventually to the media. A few simple templates can help you avoid that whole mess. Get your message out first and follow up with details later.
One more thing…
I know I said this would be five key templates, but here’s a bonus template for you:
6. All Clear
ALL CLEAR @ [Your Organization]
Situation has been resolved. Resume normal activity. More info [Your URL].
Why this works:
After any significant incident, you’ll want to send an “all clear” to let folks know that it’s resolved.
Once again, we include a URL here to your emergency information website. That’s where you can post updates with more details if needed.