Three recommendations to strengthen agency crisis management plans

During a crisis, clear communication and situational awareness is key. Pairing modern software tools with organizational processes will help agencies protect their workforce.
critical event management
(Source: FedScoop)

Every leader would like to think their organization’s emergency plan is up to date, if not foolproof. However, when a crisis arises, even the best plans will require adjustments.

While federal agencies are required to develop continuity of operations plans, it’s also important for them to have dynamic and flexible crisis management plans on a local level, especially when employees are dispersed across the country — and increasingly working outside the office.

Tracy Reinhold, vice president and chief security officer, Everbridge

As a result, agency leaders need to reconsider how best to modernize the execution their crisis management plan. A large part of that will mean moving away from printed documents, call-trees or email blasts, and embracing smarter, more cost-effective tools for their crisis management team.

Digitized plans are more likely to be initiated if and when a crisis occurs, and are flexible to change relative to the situation, unlike static pages in a binder. However, technology is only part of the equation. Agency managers also need to give fresh thought to organizational practices, to ensure contingency plans are kept up to date and employees are prepared when emergencies happen.

We work with a lot of agencies and organizations on crisis management planning. Here’s what they’ve learned and recommend:

Create a senior level crisis committee

Organizations should set up two distinct teams to guide the agency in planning and implementing crisis response.

The first is the crisis team. This relatively small and agile team should be charged with managing short-term impacts during a critical event, including communications and logistics. It should have the crisis playbook and technology tools in hand to be able to respond quickly as developments change. The best technology tools today are cloud-based platforms that can provide a virtual command center capable of connecting to team leads on any mobile device, from any location, for any facility in the agency’s purview.

A crisis committee, on the other hand, serves a more forward-thinking function and is often an overlooked step with organizational leaders.

This committee should consist of directors and executives who look at the long-term impacts and potential consequences of a critical event. This committee needs to consider big-picture strategies, for instance, if key employees are displaced or certain operations remain offline. This will help the organization develop a more comprehensive crisis response plan. 

Draft communications before the crisis

Communicating messages quickly and clearly to employees oftentimes is the biggest challenge for agencies during emergencies. And making sure employees have confidence in the instructions from the crisis management team is crucial to keep emergency operations moving smoothly.

Agencies can save valuable time, and avoid confusion, by pre-drafting messages during times of calm, so the guidance to your workforce is clear and simple. Crisis events unfold quickly and unpredictably. There’s not the luxury of time for managers to think about how to frame these messages or confirm everyone received them.

That’s where modern critical event management (CEM) platforms can play a valuable role, by giving your crisis management team the ability to send out communications automatically and simultaneously to different groups depending on what information they need. They can also give agency leaders, crisis teams, human resources representatives and public relations offices the ability to serve in different roles, but in a coordinated way, so that employees are kept safe while also maintaining operations during a crisis.

And if one regional facility is temporarily unable to communicate to employees or partners, a modern CEM streamlines the ability for the crisis management team to send notifications, with custom crafted messages, throughout the organization.

Additionally, those messages can be delivered through multiple channels — by phone, email, or text. And the system can ping every designated individual until there is a response, so the crisis team knows they have received the information.

Learn from your missteps

Many leaders know that even the best-laid plans may not go as intended, so it’s important for agencies to analyze the event after the crisis is over to modify their emergency plan as needed.

Here again is where modern CEM technology can prove to be extremely valuable. A system that creates comprehensive log files will help your team analyze the data and assess how emergency response activities unfolded during the crisis. The systems can capture data on employee, visitor or resident response rates; team and responder response rates; and message deliverability.

That analysis can help crisis management teams address areas of possible improvement while they are fresh in their minds.  And it can also help crisis committee members better gauge the potential long-term consequences of an emergency and better guide managers on the most effective procedures.

Most of all, having the right tools, processes and practices in place will help ensure that your federal workforce is informed and safe.

Tracy Reinhold is vice president and chief security officer at Everbridge. He is responsible for advancing Everbridge’s enterprise-level security strategy, as well as working closely with customers and partners to optimize their approach to managing and responding to critical events. Prior to his commercial roles in security, Reinhold served as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for twenty-two years. During this time, he was a member of the Senior Executive Service, served as Associate Executive Assistant Director for National Security and led the FBI’s intelligence division.

Everbridge’s cloud-based platform for critical event management is FedRAMP approved. It currently supports the operational resilience needs of more than 40 federal agencies.

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