The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released its forecast for the 2021 hurricane season, and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are expected to have an above-normal season. The team of hurricane forecasters from Colorado State University (CSU) agrees. CSU’s Tropical Weather & Climate Research team predicts a 25 percent increase in named storms this year compared to the new (and higher) 30-year average (using hurricane data from 1991-2020).
As businesses and organizations craft their hurricane preparedness plans, it is vital for both employee safety and business continuity that hurricane communications are relevant and sent rapidly as conditions change. That’s why it’s well worth the time to consider different hurricane scenarios and develop pre-built hurricane notification templates to ensure the right employees receive the right information at the right time.
Fortunately, a modern emergency communications solution can help you create customized messaging templates well before a storm threatens your people or property. This allows you to quickly send alerts across all communication channels—including email, text, push notifications, and phone calls—in just a few minutes when a storm is approaching.
Here’s everything you need to know about what to send, which channels to use, and how to use your mass notification system to keep employees informed about an approaching storm.
How To Create and Use Hurricane Notification Templates
In the midst of hurricane season, the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are usually on high alert. Organizations that have an emergency notification system and hurricane notification templates in place will be able to react quickly during the arrival of a storm. Therefore, when putting your hurricane notification templates together, you will want to focus on these core elements:
The notification type
When you send a notification, consider the type of engagement that you expect from the message recipients. Examples include:
- Basic one-way notifications meant to broadcast information to your audience.
- Interactive surveys and read receipts notifications meant to solicit feedback and encourage audience engagement with the information.
- Conference calls meant to get an audience to collaborate on the phone to discuss issues in real time.
To determine the most appropriate notification type, consider the following questions:
- How time-sensitive is this information?
- How large is the audience you are trying to reach?
- On which devices are your employees most likely to receive notifications?
- Are you distributing information or requesting feedback?
- Is this a one-time update or information that will be revised over time?
The channel type
Hurricane notification templates should be created in such a way that you can easily deliver messages across all available communication channels, including text (SMS), email, phone calls, mobile app push notification, and any other communication channel your organization uses to get critical messages to your audience. To guarantee message delivery, take advantage of all of the channels at your fingertips.
Specific messages can be prewritten for each action plan in an emergency plan. Be succinct and provide clear instructions to keep employees safe. Use read-receipts to verify the intended audience has received the message. This verification step ensures the recipient received the message, is safe, and can respond.
You should also consider the channel type when composing the message. For example, the maximum length of an SMS message is 918 characters and will be broken up into separate messages if it’s longer than 160 characters. So a text should be short and to-the-point, whereas an email can be longer and more detailed.
For communication channels where character counts are limited (e.g., SMS, mobile push notification), consider directing employees to an event page where you can include more comprehensive information (see example below).
An emergency is not the time to figure out who should receive a certain message. When using a notification template, it is easy to select the appropriate recipients for each message. This capability also ensures employees outside of the danger area aren’t bothered with irrelevant messages, and only the employees in harm’s way receive critical communications.
Use a tool like AlertMedia to create an event-specific website landing page. This “event” page will allow administrators to manage communications during the entire lifecycle of the hurricane, posting updates continually as the storm develops, when it makes landfall, and throughout the recovery process. In addition, keeping all notifications related to an event in one place allows employees to easily see all of the latest instructions and historical updates related to the hurricane, improving coordination and outcomes.
Hurricane Communication Templates: Before, During, and After the Storm
As you build your hurricane notification templates ahead of time, keep in mind there are three distinct phases of a hurricane—each with its own messaging requirements. For example, while email is best when sending lengthy instructions or information, you should send shorter messages via text and push notifications, particularly in more urgent situations.
Before the storm
Thanks to science and technology, we now have far more detailed hurricane predictions from experts ahead of any impending storm. While the path of the hurricane often shifts, we typically have several days warning to prepare.
As soon as you have reason to believe your employees, locations, or assets may be impacted by an approaching hurricane, it is a good practice to begin communicating about the storm. By communicating early, you’re demonstrating to employees that you are aware and monitoring storm forecasts and have plans in place to keep them safe and informed. In addition, using a threat monitoring and intelligence solution that provides real-time updates about severe weather events can help you keep employees informed with verified information about hurricanes as they develop.
As the hurricane nears and conditions change, you should continue to provide regular updates concerning the expected severity of the storm, its expected path, the anticipated impact, how employees should respond, and where they can find additional information.
Hurricane email template
“[NAME OF CITY] is in the projected path of Hurricane [NAME]. As the storm progresses we will provide updates about office closures, evacuations, and more. If you are currently working remotely from a location other than your listed home address, please reply to this email with your current location.
As we get closer to the storm, taking home your computers/chargers and any other items necessary to complete your job is a good idea in case of unplanned office closures.
Please contact your supervisor about any questions or concerns you have. You can also reply to this email or call [CONTACT NAME AND PHONE] with any questions and concerns.”
Pre-Hurricane SMS/text template
“We’re in the projected path of Hurricane [NAME]. Stay tuned for updates on office closures, evacuations, and more.”
During the storm
During a typical hurricane season, a major hurricane will force most employees to either stay in a shelter or shelter with friends outside of the danger zone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, mass shelters might no longer be a safe option. Your employees may be even more dispersed than in a typical season (when most evacuees often flock to a safe major city nearby). In any event, they might not be too concerned with work. Instead, they will be watching the news outlets and waiting out the storm—trying to determine when it is safe to return. This is the perfect time to send concise, thoughtful messages that affirm the company is concerned with their safety. Make it clear that you are not concerned with employees coming back to the office until it is safe, and you understand if it takes some time.
Hurricane SMS/text template
“Due to severe weather caused by Hurricane [NAME], the [LOCATION] office will be closed on [DAY OF WEEK AND DATE]. For the latest updates, visit [LINK TO EVENT PAGE]”
Mobile app push notification template
“We’re offering assistance to [COMPANY NAME] employees to prepare for Hurricane [NAME]. Check your company email for more information.”
After the storm
Once the storm has passed, it’s time to check in with employees and begin the business recovery plan. Hurricane email templates and surveys are an effective way to continue communications post-hurricane. Surveys are a fast way to gain insight into the status of employees and facilities, next steps from management, and who can return to work.
Post-hurricane email template
“The severe weather from Hurricane [NAME] has moved out of our area and our office will be reopening, [DAY OF WEEK AND DATE] for regular hours.
If you are not currently approved to work remotely, please contact your supervisor if you can’t make it into the office to make arrangements. If you have other questions or concerns, reach out to [CONTACT NAME AND EMAIL].”
Post-hurricane survey template
“Do you require any assistance?” “Are you able to return to work in 2 days?” “Did your home/office sustain any damage?” “Was any of your critical technology damaged?”
Measure Your Effectiveness
Post-event, you should assess every plan, notably your emergency plan, for its effectiveness. Review the performance of your notifications and messages to see what channels and messages employees responded to most effectively. Determine how long each message took to send and if there were any bounce backs. If so, ensure the employee contact information is accurate. A modern mass notification system will produce reports that provide insights into these details.
Ask for feedback
Take advantage of surveys and go straight to the source. Following a major storm, consider asking employees that received messages:
- Were the notifications effective?
- Was the information provided sent at an appropriate time?
- Which communication channels were most useful?
This feedback will help you craft better messages and send them more efficiently next time. It will also engage employees and make them part of the improvement process.
Hurricanes are fast and furious. Make sure your communications during a hurricane can keep up by using templates for as many anticipated scenarios as possible. An effective emergency communication system will be flexible enough to enable the use of templates and on-the-fly messaging. Both options, however, should be able to send messages quickly to predetermined employee lists that are grouped by location and/or job function. By keeping messages relevant to the intended audience, sent promptly across as many channels as possible, companies can ensure they are doing everything they can to protect employees during this busy hurricane season.