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HR Team’s Role In Crisis Communications

HR professionals can communicate emergency management strategies to address employee questions, confusion, and concerns.
Crisis Communications

By Todd Miller

HR leaders and staff have a larger role to play in crisis communications than they may think. While emergencies, especially the unexpected ones, can often derail business operations and make “business as usual” feel like a distant memory, proactive HR professionals can take an active role in stemming the tide and addressing employee questions, confusion, and concerns. But strategies, steps, and the right use of technology need to be well-defined, documented, and shared long before chaos ensues.

Emergencies are split into four phases that crisis management teams call the incident lifecycle: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Although there is great emphasis placed on the response phase, business resiliency relies on companies planning and practicing for every aspect of the incident lifecycle—regardless of the severity of the crisis event.

The First Defense, And Test, Of A Strong Emergency Plan: Mitigation

Mitigation and preparedness are the foundational aspects of corporate resilience. Mitigation is the lessening and prevention of disasters before an emergency occurs. This phase often includes studying and analyzing prior response scenarios, both onsite or experienced by other businesses, to better understand how to prepare and respond to future emergencies.

According to the Harvard Business Review, reviewing prior adverse events and the steps taken or not taken during an emergency can actually spur opportunities for organizational growth because analysis forces companies to look for ways to iterate on dated systems and processes.
Working with company leaders, building security, and facility management, HR leaders should begin their company’s mitigation efforts by performing a risk assessment of current company emergency management practices or protocols. For example, if a company decides to revisit evacuation of their buildings during a fire, their risk assessment process might entail a comprehensive review of their fire drill plan. A deep dive into those specific practices might look at the ways the company is collaborating with the local fire department, the right egress routes, designated meeting spots, notification procedures, and the communication tools being used to ensure that the drill is well-executed and employees are well-informed. The same level of scrutiny should be applied to all potential crisis event scenarios—even the most unlikely ones.

Some emergencies that are high impact with long-term consequences, for example a cyber security break or severe weather event, may seem rare but trends show that these incidents are happening more frequently and presenting tremendous challenges that may stall or stop business operations. By analyzing past company crisis management tactics and considering emergencies taking place elsewhere in the community, industry, or news, HR teams will be able to build a solid foundation of emergency knowledge for each “what if” scenario and ensure that their company is prepared to navigate both common and uncommon workplace emergencies.

Putting The Plan Into Play: Preparedness

Oftentimes, mitigation can be confused with preparedness, but they are very distinct phases of the emergency incident lifecycle. Mitigation helps HR teams determine which steps to take for resiliency, while preparedness calls for the actual implementation of those best practices.
The preparedness stage requires the sharing of crisis management strategies, building strong emergency teams, training on potential crisis incidents, and effectively communicating with different audiences. All these actions are informed by the knowledge gleaned in the mitigation stage.
Emergency situations can rattle the most seasoned and sound professionals, so it is important that HR departments establish a centralized, secure database of emergency information to use during a crisis. HR pros can invest in applications for centralized, enterprise-wide communications about emergencies, using these tools as digital repositories for phone numbers, medical histories, floorplans, and other critical data. Having all this information a click away, will help first responders with situational awareness and ensure that all employees receive updates in a timely, efficient manner. Crisis training materials can also be housed in this digital hub or App, allowing employees to learn about the established and tested processes for each kind of emergency. The best emergency plans will only be successful if they are shared with all employees and revisited often so that staff members are building the muscle memory that is critical during crisis events.

As noted above, communication plays a significant role during the preparedness phase of the incident lifecycle. And while communicating wide and often will certainly help to alleviate stress and reinforce safety methods company wide, top-tier business continuity plans also recognize the importance of segmentation information-flow at times. With segmentation, HR professionals can communicate with the right people, at the right time during an emergency. That is why some preparedness plans allow company leaders to establish specific contact groups based on departments, locations, or level of authority. For example, members of the people operations team at a hospital may choose to notify staff in a certain wing or building about a geographically relevant emergency—opting to send a code blue notification to staff on the fourth floor—rather than contacting employees throughout an entire campus. Targeted outreach helps to minimize alert fatigue among employees and improve engagement by limiting outreach to those most affected by the emergency.

Ensuring Technology Is Efficient And Effective: Crisis Communications

Technology helps HR teams to document and implement the strategies outlined during the mitigation and preparedness phases efficiently and effectively. It also helps HR staff to get the word out to the right audiences, thus making HR the organization’s hub of information before and during an emergency. The platforms that HR teams choose to help with emergency management announcements should be user-friendly and easy to access, so that HR and staff can use the tool intuitively should disaster strike. HR departments should also work with local public safety, building or property managers, on-site security, and other key stakeholders and ensure that all parties have access to relevant information.

With one comprehensive platform, people management teams can store and access related resources, notify staff via multimodal channels, and get their company back to normal operations as swiftly and safely as possible.

Emergencies, especially those that put employees and other staff members in harm’s way, can play out in a number of ways. That is why today’s HR professionals need to look honestly and holistically at their emergency management practices; learn from past incidents; translate findings into actionable steps; and utilize technology in the spirit of communications and collaboration.
The well-being of employees and business continuity has always been core to the HR function but keeping these priorities front and center before and during emergency events requires a whole other level of consideration.

Miller is the strategic programs lead at Rave Mobile Safety, part of the Motorola Solutions safety ecosystem. Prior to joining Rave, Miller managed the self-service consulting Practice at Oracle where he was responsible for the delivery of customized software solutions for clients in North America, supporting millions of users.

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