Robust notification routines save lives and help avoid major injuries. It is neither difficult nor does it take a lot of resources to establish good alerting procedures in an organisation. Here is a simple overview of how you should proceed.
A crisis rarely manifests itself in a clear and organised manner. Therefore, the organisation must be aware of factors that could become critical to preserving life environment, everyday operations and the reputation of the business.
Critical information concerning incidents that can affect your business can come from multiple sources: internal sources discover an uncontrolled development within the business, intelligence finds that operational-sensitive information has been leaked, or IT detects a security hole in the firewall.
Situational awareness is essential for assessing information correctly. The organisation must also have procedures for detecting and evaluating incidents. Only then will it be possible to implement actions to stop/reverse an unwanted development and quickly regain control over the situation.
Additionally, you should identify the type of incidents that must trigger a notification. The fact that "something" has occurred is not enough, and each event must be assessed individually: to notify or not to notify?
Who decides to push the button?
The most important is that his is decided before something happens. This is part of the company's process of mapping risks and building preparedness. Those responsible for notifying the organisation must have clear directions on how to perform this task in different situations, and they must practise on a regular basis.
However, essential functions such as the crisis management organisation, c- level management and the press contact will almost always receive a notification, and they will also decide the size of the response will be escalated.
Where to Start
In addition to organisational clarifications and situational awareness, you must have these elements in place to alert and mobilise effectively:
- Updated contact lists - both internal and external
- Updated on-duty lists and an overview of available resources - both human and material.
- Systems and procedures for logging - who has been in contact with you; who have you notified; who has received what information and when did they get it?
A modern crisis management tool simplifies such processes. For example, the on-duty list module provides an overview of the people on call at all times. This is linked to a notification module and the organisation can send alerts to the on-duty list.
Dynamic distribution lists are a feature that automatically updates lists based on who works in which department/subdivision.
In this day and age, notifications are sent digitally. A digital system should provide:
- Mobile access regardless of time and place
- The possibility to notify both internally and externally
- The possibility to notify based on geographical location
- An overview of the people notified
- Overview of responses received
- Access to messaging templates based on the incident type
We recommend using SMS or text to speech/voice messages. Most people have their mobile phones at hand, which means that you'll have the best possible hit rate. Be brief in the message, but always include these points:
- Who is notified?
Predefined notification lists remove difficult decisions in a pressured situation and ensure that no one is forgotten.
- What is this about?
A brief and concise description of the incident and status.
A clear description of what the notified person should do.
Read more: Effective Incident Alerting Procedures
Ask For Feedback!
Getting confirmation that a message has been received is essential in all communication. The sender must have the competence to know what to do with the received answers and ensure that the scale of the response is appropriate.
Gathering and mobilising resources based on a worst-case scenario is a vital principle of a proactive method. If it turns out that the incident is not as serious as this scenario describes, you just scale down the response.
Getting Good at Notifying
It may sound obvious, but you must test your notification routines through training. Fear not, you can run the necessary drills frequently without using considerable resources or causing significant interruptions to everyday work. 10-15 minutes is sufficient. Expenses and time spent are insignificant compared to the effect this has on your organisation and the level of preparedness.
Here is an example of a simple, weekly notification and response exercises. Set clear goals for the exercise session, and plan for progress:
- Exercises 1 and 2: Participants should recognise and be able to respond, without unnecessary hesitation, to a crisis team mobilisation.
- Exercises 3 and 4: In addition to receiving and responding to the notification the participants should access the crisis support tool and log a short sample message.
- Exercises 5 and 6: In addition to receiving and responding to the notification the participants should log a sample message and locate their contingency plan.
Measure the response times on individual and group level. Provide feedback via email and make sure you measure progress as training goes on.
Read more: Guitar, golf and preparedness
Personnel making their first notification during high-stress situations, is a security risk. Notification exercises test an individual’s assessment skills, the organisation's lines of communication and technical systems. It creates a sense of safety and security that are very valuable the day the training becomes a reality.