Friday, March 14, 2014

Of course, we had no Internet. What is your Businesses’ Communications Backup Plan

"Every cell tower in the Long Island community stopped working and representatives from wireless companies were nowhere to be found…Schnirman (Long Beach city manager) said he spent a week after the storm trying to persuade a wireless carrier, which he declined to name, to deploy a portable cell tower -- known as a "cell on wheels" -- to restore service in Long Beach.  “We reached out to the carrier’s customer support to ask about getting a cell on wheels and the voice on phone said ‘You might want to look that up on Internet. I don’t know what that is,’” he recalled. “Of course, we had no Internet."(smith 2013)

What is your Businesses’ Communications Backup Plan?
When disaster strikes, when the coming spring brings floods, tornadoes or the unexpected ice storm, are you prepared? And the power and communication outages that come with it, are your businesses prepared to keep open the lines of communication. Do you have an emergency communications plan? Consider this Crisis Communications Plan as you recall the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

            “One year after Hurricane Sandy triggered a communications blackout across the country's most populous region, city governments, federal regulators and wireless carriers are still grappling with how to keep cell phones working in a disaster. Phone companies have come under pressure to ensure they can provide service in emergencies, and while they have taken steps to bolster their networks, many question whether it will be enough for the next big storm.

The search for answers has become increasingly urgent as storms grow in strength and frequency and rising numbers of people ditch their landlines. Today, almost 40 percent of households use only cell phones, relying on wireless networks to contact family, friends or 911 in an emergency.

Sandy exposed the weaknesses of wireless in a crisis. With electricity out for days, cell towers ran out of backup power. Sandy knocked out one-fourth of towers in the Northeast, leaving thousands unable to make calls.” “"After Sandy hit, far too many impacted residents struggled to get service because far too many cell towers were rendered inoperable," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference last year. But the wireless industry sued to fight off mandates for longer-lasting battery power after Hurricane Katrina. And today, carriers maintain that their towers have enough backup power and requiring more would be of little use if towers or lines connecting them to the network are damaged in a hurricane.

Instead, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed that carriers be required to publicly disclose how many of their towers stop working after storms. The new rule, if adopted, would help consumers choose which provider is most dependable in severe weather and “shame companies into beefing up their infrastructure,” said Howard Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a public interest group.”The wireless industry, however, says it has already spent the past year strengthening its networks to ensure cell service after the next hurricane. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile told The Huffington Post they have taken a variety of measures, investing in more generators and portable cell towers, upgrading cables that connect towers to the network, and expanding capacity so networks don’t jam when millions of people try to make calls at once.

When an emergency occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. If business operations are disrupted, customers will want to know how they will be impacted. Regulators may need to be notified and local government officials will want to know what is going on in their community. Employees and their families will be concerned and want information. Neighbors living near the facility may need information—especially if they are threatened by the incident. All of these “audiences” will want information before the business has a chance to begin communicating.” Social media outlets can spread a rumor faster than anyone can decide the truth of a real time situation. 

“A business must be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently during an emergency in the hours and days that follow. Many different audiences must be reached with information specific to their interests and needs. The image of the business can be positively or negatively impacted by public perceptions of the handling of the incident.” Read the complete plan at the link

Remember all your good intentions and preparations can disappear the moment an event occurs. Your best laid plans mean little without testing. Make sure you hold regular crisis and communication drills. Be sure your stakeholders are being served and that your assets know their roles and resources available to them.

For more views of Crisis communications you may enjoy the following links.

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