IS YOUR EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLAN TUNED UP AND READY?
As I get ready to provide early morning radio interviews on the emergency situation in a wood pellet storage silo at Pacific BioEnergy Corporation’s Prince George Plant, I ask the open-ended question, “Is your Emergency Communications Plan up to date and ready to serve your company or organization?”
If the forest fires around BC during the Summer of 2017 have taught us nothing else, it is that your Emergency Communications Plan is one of the most important documents in your organization. Whether it was the BC Wildfire Service, Cariboo Regional District, or the City of Prince George which cared for 10,000+ evacuees for most of July, the importance of having your Emergency Response and Communications Plans tuned up and ready to serve their purpose was critical. The plans became even more critical as emergency situations around BC developed very fast and responders had to make critical decisions equally as fast. Their ability to reference the emergency plans and considered new information ‘on the fly’ helped to develop and implement new solutions quickly and effectively.
As the forest fires quickly spread in many areas in BC on July 7, people under evacuation orders made their way to Kamloops, Prince George and other communities. Once there they relied on a variety of traditional and social media sources to stay informed about what was happening around their homes. Emergency Communications Plans helped staff determine how often news releases and emergency information bulletins needed to be written and distributed to traditional media and for posting on Web and Facebook sites, and to be shared on Twitter and other social media sites.
What became even more important as local governments and other organizations around BC continued to respond to the forest fires with evacuation alerts and orders and count on other organizations to provide services to citizens, was the need to ‘make adjustments’ on a regular basis in how information was being communicated. The sheer volume of information overwhelmed many organizations as emergency situations changed on an hour-by-hour basis in many cases.
What became a very helpful communications tool as the emergency situations moved into August was the value of posting short videos on social media sites. In fast developing emergency situations like those we’ve seen many times this summer, communications staff face the reality of developing several news releases and information bulletins each day. Communications staff also need to update their Web and Facebook sites several times a day.
Organizations like the Cariboo Regional District, City of Williams Lake, BC Wildfire Service and others were able to effectively package all the key information in a short minute video usually posted later in the day. The Williams Lake Tribune newspaper also used this communications tool during much of the forest fire situation that impacted that community. Daily video reports provide viewers with a large volume of relevant information from trusted spokespeople who appeared in the videos day after day.
People who were evacuated from their homes quickly learned that these daily report videos were usually posted in the late afternoon or early evening and that they contained all the ‘new’ information about fires, evacuation alerts and orders, road closures and services that most people required.
The use of video reports in emergency communications has proven its worth this summer and I’m confident that as Emergency Communications Plans are updated based on experiences from the Summer of 2017, most will contain guidelines on the use and frequency of video reports in future emergency communications.
For those companies and organizations who don’t have an Emergency Communications Plan or which haven’t updated their Emergency Communications Plan in the past year, my advice is ‘There is nothing more important on your priority task list’. If you are asking why, just contact any of the local governments, organizations or companies that needed to communicate quickly and effectively to citizens and employees during the past few months.
I think the photo below of the staff at Pacific BioEnergy meeting with members of the Prince George Fire and Rescue service to ensure everyone was ready to manage the emergency safely and effectively says it all.