Pictures of business owners in Australia returning to flood-ruined buildings in an article entitled After the Deluge, are powerful reminders of why small businesses should be prepared. Imagine walking back into your place of business to find your computer covered in mud: not a good sign.
However, it seems that social media and emerging technologies, such as cloud commuting, can be utilized for disaster communications for small, and even larger businesses, as well as for disaster recovery. I looked at FEMA’s Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation Program to see what they had to say. The program, as described on FEMA’s website:
The Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS‑Prep) is mandated by Title IX of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (the Act.) Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a voluntary program of accreditation and certification of private entities using standards adopted by DHS that promote private sector preparedness, including disaster management, emergency management and business continuity programs. The purpose of the PS-Prep Program is to enhance nationwide resilience in an all-hazards environment by encouraging private sector preparedness.
I examined FEMA’s Continuity Guidance Circular I: for non-federal entities in order to determine if they had considered or provided recommendations regarding various new or emerging technologies for either communications or recovery. I was not surprised that social media was not explicitly mentioned since the document was published January 2009 (a millennium ago as for as SM is concerned). But there were three key points related to SM and emerging tech:
- “Planners should consider the resilience of their systems to operate in disaster scenarios that may include power and other infrastructure problems.”
- “Organizations may expand or migrate, as appropriate, their communications capabilities, to make use of emerging technologies, but organizations should ensure that any additional communications capabilities they may obtain are compatible with existing equipment and complement the established requirements.”
- “Geographic dispersion of leadership, data storage, personnel, and other capabilities may be essential to the performance of essential functions following a catastrophic event and will enable operational continuity during an event that requires social distancing (e.g., pandemic influenza and other biological events).”
This document has a good for list of issues that businesses need to be aware of… but, it doesn’t quite give a “how-to”. So I checked ready.gov for businesses. Again, there are some really great checklists, but I couldn’t find any mention of emerging technologies nor any specific recommendations.
I understand a Federal Agency’s hesitancy to recommend third-party applications, so the best instructions I found were in an article by Chris Brogan, a social media consultant that works with Fortune 500 companies etc. His article addressed how to run your company from your kitchen table, and although he doesn’t mention disasters, its application to COB seemed obvious to me. Read the article, but I’ve quoted him here liberally. His key recommendations mixed with a few of my own:
1. Use Cloud Technologies: Brogan states “My notes are stored in Evernote. Why? Because I can read them on my laptop, on my computer over in the office, on my Android phone, etc. My important work files are stored inDropbox for the same reason… I need things where I’m working. When I create new files, I use Google Docs, so that I know they’re safe and sound and accessible wherever I can get a web browser.”
Continuity Central also reports that - “Companies that utilize public cloud storage are far more likely to have a superior disaster recovery program. Forty-six percent of public cloud storage users were found to have the highest performing disaster recovery programs.” Read their entire report here.
2. Create a presence on the Web with a “storefront”. This will potentially allow you to stay in business even if your actual storefront is 6 feet underwater (depending, of course, on the type of business–sandwiches are hard to make virtually). Creating a webpage has become increasingly less expensive with companies like: WebStorefront.net and intuit.com.
3. Mobile Computing: Brogan, “Between smartphones and the iPad (and other tablet computers), we have devices that let us do our business where the action is… If we need to take money remotely, we can use Square.” I also found that Intuit offers an iPhone apps called “go-payment” that allows you to accept payment with a credit card straight from you iPhone.
Brogan again: “You can schedule simple interactive meetings with GoToMeeting (note: they’re a client) on your iPad, use Skype as a video phone or even as instant messaging on your mobile device. There are plenty of other business applications that free you from having to work in front of a desktop or laptop for a good chunk of the day.” PiratePad is another great free tool for hosting meetings. A website will also enable you to keep your customers updated regarding your physical location, if necessary.
4. Use Social Media Sites for Communications- With 500 million people on facebook, there is a good chance that most of your employees are there as well. If you have a facebook page create a group for employees only. This might allow another avenue for employees to keep in touch after they have evacuated, for example after a storm. The facebook page could also be used to update customers regarding your situation, e.g. when you’ll be open again, how much damage you sustained, etc. Open and honest communications are key.
5. Use Social media sites to get situational awareness updates: If most communications networks are down, you might not be able to get a call through, but your employees could probably send out a tweet. For example, if a tornado goes through the town where one of your sandwich shops are located and you are wondering if it is still standing, make it a part of your Standard Operating Procedures for your manager to send a tweet with a pic of the building (if possible) or just a status update. All employees could check-in as to their personal status as well. Tweets will alleviate the need for a call-tree, which not only take a lot of time, but tie up phones lines needed for emergency services.
My final recommendation is that you employ these technologies and procedures before a crisis occurs. For instance, if you are planning on using a “check-in” type system, then create a quarterly test to ensure employees understand what to expect. No system will work if you are doing it for the first time in the middle of a disaster: planning along with training and exercising are always the key.
Good Luck. Please write in with examples if you have one!
- Queensland Floods Within Capacity of Insurers as Deluge Worsens – BusinessWeek (news.google.com)
- New storms soak flood-weary Australian communities (foxnews.com)
- Flooded Australian city faces long wait to dry out (independent.co.uk)
- Few Companies are Prepared to Manage a Crisis
- Transformation of Continuity through Technology, slideshare by Heather Blanchard of CrisisCommons