Information can save lives. And when it matters most-- the sooner the information is dispersed the better. Once an emergency or critical situation has been confirmed, the first step towards a successful outcome is to initiate a message to your population of employees, students, and even visitors immediately - via all communication methods possible.
Have these first messages for each potential situation set up and configured in your emergency notification system ahead of time. When the times comes and you are scared or nervous, this limits the possibility of making a mistake that could put you, the population, or your organization subject to additional risks and consequences.
With your initial message, DO:
- Send immediately
- Include the date and time
- Acknowledge the event
- Provide brief instructions
Acknowledge the emergency/event and tell your population that the organization leadership and emergency response team are aware of the incident. Include the date and time with instructions to follow previously practiced protocols accordingly.
Your message does not have to provide details or specifics in this first message, as your team may not be privy to every detail just yet.
A few objectives from the CDC’s Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Quick Guide for notifying your people include:
1) Acknowledge the event with empathy,
2) In the simplest terms, explain the risk,
3) Provide emergency information, and
4) Make a commitment to your audiences to provide accurate/ timely updates.
For instance, if a suspicious bag or package is found in a building, your initial message could read:
“[Date and Time] Emergency! A suspicious item has been found in one of our buildings. Evacuate immediately. More information to follow.
With your initial message, DO NOT:
- Let time lapse between the confirmed event and message initiation
- Leave out the date and time
- Provide unconfirmed information
- Stray from agreed upon messaging/instructions with surrounding external first responders
The sooner the message is dispersed, the sooner those in possible harm’s way can take action to better protect themselves. For instance, if a fire has been confirmed in one of your buildings and a notification with evacuation instructions has been initiated immediately, you could potentially save many people by giving them the knowledge to not walk into a dangerous environment. The time between the confirmed incident and the notification being sent -- that is time people could walk into the wrong building at the wrong time.
Not including the date and time could cause your recipients to be confused. Those with dead cell phones, faulty Wi-Fi, etc., who may be away from the building could receive the message late and think it pertains to the moment they actually received the notification.
Similarly, including unconfirmed information in your message may fuel rumor, cause confusion, and interfere with your organization's credibility. The information you send must be factual and concise.
Additionally, it is important to include instructions that are in alignment with your local first responders. It would be counter-intuitive and dangerous to provide evacuation instructions for a suspicious package when your local first responders would instruct everyone to stay inside or shelter in place. Be in touch with your local first responders to be sure the message you send includes instructions that align with their response methods.
With this in mind, prepare your initial message templates for each potential threat that could occur ahead of time in your emergency notification system that follow what is in your emergency preparedness and response plans. Also set up who will be notified and how (which endpoints or communication methods will be used?) for each possible emergency scenario -- in advance.
To learn more about what to do during the first moments of an emergency, download the Insight: The Most Important Minute.