Tag Archives: continuity of operations

5 Ways to Use Social Media for Continuity of Business and Recovery

Autumn Mediterranean flooding in Alicante (Spa...

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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:

  1. “Planners should consider the resilience of their systems to operate in disaster scenarios that may include power and other infrastructure problems.”
  2. “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.”
  3. “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.

My recommendations:

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!

FEMA’s Preparedness Information Could Include More “How-To’s” Regarding Social Media

Post by: Kim Stephens

Fellow blogger, John Solomon, has been gearing up for the September, 2010 National Preparedness Month by writing a series of posts about FEMA’s efforts.  He reports that FEMA is incorporating new media and technologies into their monthly activities, in particular by launching the new mobile application: m.FEMA.gov. Solomon also mentions an Emergency Plan for individuals and families FEMA developed along with the Ad Council that has a text or email feature.

“This application is designed to aid you in assembling a quick reference list of contact information for your family, and a meeting place for emergency situations. …you can paste it into email or text documents you can send to others or save on your computer.”

Although this effort is laudable, why not remind people to enter this information into their cell phone and then create an emergency contact “group” (most phones allow for this). Once the group is created one text can be typed and sent to everyone in the group. Or, why not ask the cell phone companies to publish how to make these groups on each of their different cell phone models for use in emergency situations.  Groups, of course, are quite easy to create on Twitter and Facebook, and are also available as a mobile application on smart phones, but FEMA’s preparedness site is completely mute regarding these new technologies.

Furthermore, the “Ready Business” page that details how to write a crisis communications plan was last updated February 6, 2008. Technology changes rapidly, and this recommendation seems antiquainted:

“Set up a telephone call tree, password-protected page on the company website, an email alert or a call-in voice recording to communicate with employees in an emergency.”

Instead companies, even small companies, can turn to social media to communicate to both their employees and their customers. Many free or inexpensive options are now available:  SMS text messaging;  Yammer, which is a closed network for a subscribing company; Twitter and Facebook,  just to name a few.

Moreover, the business crisis communication’s plan provided by FEMA doesn’t include any advice on new technologies that are available to assist in keeping in touch with employees after a disaster–(for example,  Safe and Well developed by the American Red Cross or other web-based tools now available to track people). Companies could also employ a closed-group service such as Yammer, for this purpose.

Business continuity consultants are beginning to understand the power of social media, and FEMA really is trying to amp up their  social media efforts,  yet it might take a while before it filters into every part of the agency.