8 Tips for ​Communicating with Employees In an Emergency

June 15, 2021
By Jayne Garrison, M.S.

Communication is never more important – or more challenging – than during a crisis. Whether your company is facing a wildfire, a tornado, or other physical danger, your workers need easy access to clear communications from their supervisors or the home office. This means being prepared for crisis communications. Above all, this means having a plan.


Don’t Wait for the Crisis


Lack of training, lack of clear roles, and lack of accessible documents are the greatest obstacles to good crisis communications. Get ahead of these problems. Develop your crisis communications strategy as part of your disaster preparedness plan. Establish and train the members of your emergency response team. Know the key points you want to make to your workers, vendors, and customers. Have the documents ready so you can reach them easily. Here are 8 steps to help you effectively communicate in a crisis.


1. Know how to reach your people.


In an emergency such as a wildfire, many people cannot check their computers or emails. Regardless, you should post communications on your intranet and send information by email. But don’t assume those messages have reached your employees. Have an emergency contact list at the ready. This should include home phone numbers, home emails, alternate cell phones for texts or calls, and contact numbers for family members. Keep printouts of the list not only in your office, but also at the homes of people on your emergency response team.


2. Assign and practice your outreach.


Have specific people in HR assigned to update the intranet and email messages. Have a manageable phone tree that’s divided among members of your emergency response team.


3. Keep messages fast, clear, and simple.


In a crisis, people are too rushed and ruffled to read. Messages should be short. (For example: Our facility is evacuating employees. If you have not arrived at work, stay home or go to your nearest evacuation center.) Without fast communications from you, your workers will turn to social media and rumor. Say only what you know is true.


4. Stay in touch.


Even if you don’t have new, hard information, send occasional messages letting your staff know that you are gathering information and will update them as soon as possible.


5. Communicate with the media.


Designate a primary and secondary spokesperson to talk with the media. Make sure they have adequate media training throughout the year, and that all your employees know who the spokespeople are. In a crisis, many people stay glued to radio and TV if they have power. Media is an effective way to reassure everyone – staff, customers, and concerned vendors – in a crisis.


6. Monitor the message.


Listen to what’s being said about the situation and your company online, on air, and in the press. That way you can adjust your message if your key points aren’t coming across.


7. Keep communicating during the aftermath.


A crisis, of course, does not end when the fire trucks, TV cameras, and other safety personnel leave the scene. Some of your staff may have lost homes or suffered trauma. Keep communicating when the crisis is over. Make sure you know the steps your company can take to help employees get through the aftermath. Involve staff who were not affected by the crisis, perhaps by letting them donate money or vacation time.


8. Mark the milestones after the crisis.


One month later, a year later, observe the crisis respectfully. Remind your staff how they supported each other and got through such a difficult time. Acknowledge any losses. Celebrate heroes. You pulled together through a crisis. Be proud of that.


For information on how Nelson can help with your recruiting or hiring needs, contact the professionals at Nelson today.


Jayne Garrison, M.S., is a writer and editor from the San Francisco Bay Area. She specializes in website content, ghostwriting and thought leadership pieces.

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