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Emergency communications

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed emergency communications?

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Photo: AlertMedia

Responding is Peter Steinfeld, senior vice president of safety solutions, AlertMedia, Austin, TX.

One year ago, few companies were prepared for a pandemic like COVID-19. But that’s the nature of emergencies. They are often unexpected and unpredictable. It’s impossible to know when or what type of emergency or disruptive event will occur next, but effective communication can dramatically reduce its impact on your people and business.

Take severe winter weather, for example. Quickly notifying affected employees of dangerous road conditions can prevent accidents and reduce the chances of injury.

The same rules apply when alerting employees of a local COVID-19 outbreak. Employers now have a responsibility to share frequent and up-to-date information on the precautions that should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission.

However, the workplace today is very different than it was when most of us drove to work, stayed at the same desk at the same location for eight hours and then drove home. The majority of us now work remotely, and the workplace is no longer a single location or set of locations – it is a vast network of hundreds or even thousands of dispersed homes. To overcome the challenges of communicating with an increasingly remote, distributed workforce, business leaders across every sector are turning to emergency communication technology.

Emergency communication software enables the fast, reliable delivery of mass notifications to any audience, on any device and over any communication channel. By using a mass notification system with multichannel, two-way communication capabilities, you can rapidly send and receive messages across multiple channels – including text, phone call, email, mobile app push, intranet, desktop takeover, and social media. Additionally, emergency communication software allows you to easily segment employees into dynamic groups based on location, department or any other attribute using up-to-date employee data pulled directly from the organization’s active directory or human resources system.

Moving further into 2021, many organizations will start to determine how to prepare for a safe return to the workplace post-COVID-19, regardless of when that may occur. Others, particularly essential businesses that have operated throughout the pandemic, are already using emergency communication technology to protect employees who made a return to the office.

An example of how this technology helps organizations keep employees safe during the pandemic involves a daily survey. It’s sent to all of the company’s employees scheduled to work in-office that day, asking if they have had any known exposure to or are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. Employees can then respond using a survey link within the message – a process that takes three seconds. If people don’t respond, the message is automatically resent to only those employees until a response is received. These real-time survey insights allow the organization to swiftly notify employees in the event of a suspected or positive case of COVID-19 in the workplace, as well as ensure employees in need of assistance get that support.

In the current crisis brought on by COVID-19, business continuity and emergency preparedness plans have been put to the test in ways we never imagined. Relying on antiquated methods of communication such as manual call trees and email blasts can’t keep up with the dynamics of today’s remote, distributed workforce, especially as organizations make plans for employees to return to the physical workplace. When it comes to employee health and safety, accurate, timely and reliable communication is paramount.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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