By Amelia Marceau - August 27, 2019
With Colorado State University forecasting another season of above average hurricane activity, now is a good time to discuss severe weather templates businesses should be using to alert employees to severe weather events.
However, before discussing “what” businesses should include in weather alert templates, it is a good idea to explain “why” businesses should take responsibility for alerting employees to severe weather events, and “how” businesses can best communicate alerts to ensure they are received by employees and noticed amidst the noise of other communications.
In the United States, the National Weather Service is responsible for providing severe weather alerts and other weather-related warnings for “the purposes of protection, safety, and information”. However, in recent months the service has experienced several technology issues that have resulted in the tsunami warning system going offline for several days and a nationwide outage during which severe weather alerts were unavailable.
In addition, the National Weather Service has had to limit the amount of data users can download from its website due to bandwidth issues, and the “NWS Chat” facility – which is used to convey critical information to broadcasters and emergency managers – has become unusable due to increasing demand. Consequently, the risk exists that, if a severe weather event was forecast, the National Weather Service may not have the capacity to alert everyone in time.
It is not only technology issues that can prevent the timely notification of weather-related events. Because of the way in which the system sends localized alerts, some people may be excluded from receiving alerts due to the location of the nearest cell tower, or alerts can be delayed due to human error. In 2017, it was also the case wildfire alerts were sent to people not in danger due to the limitations of the system – resulting in unnecessary evacuations that hampered rescue efforts.
It is because of these issues that businesses should take responsibility for alerting employees to severe weather events – not only because they have a duty of care to protect employees from danger, but also because an effective mass notification system can be used to better manage employees during a severe weather event in order to mitigate business disruption and support business continuation. But what makes a mass notification system effective?
Each year, we conduct a workplace safety and preparedness survey to determine factors such as how employees perceive workplace safety and what measures businesses are taking to prepare workforces for emergency events. In our most recent report, we found an increase in the number of businesses taking advantage of mass text messaging systems which have multiple benefits over the system used by the National Weather Service inasmuch as:
Thereafter, businesses can make their mass notifications more effective by issuing employees with personal safety apps through which notifications, wellness checks, and geo-polls can be sent, and which can be used for employees to upload safety profiles or store emergency procedures and policies. In many cases, mass notification systems for businesses can be integrated with other safety systems and collaboration platforms to expedite emergency response and recovery.
Despite the potential capabilities of a mass notification system, technology alone does not make a system effective. In order to be effective, a mass notification system has to be used effectively. For this to happen – particularly in respect of a severe weather event – warnings have to be sent as quickly as possible AND employees have to know what to do when they received a severe weather mass notification. Often 160 characters is not enough to provide enough information.
Therefore, SMS message templates need to be prepared in advance for every type of weather-related emergency; and - if the business has not provided employees with personal safety apps they can use to store emergency procedures – emails need to be sent simultaneously providing further information about how to respond. Alternatively, SMS notifications can include a link to a webpage where each employee can access emergency procedure guidelines. Examples include:
When a hurricane makes landfall, the consequences to people and property can be significant. This type of weather event is likely to create more business disruption than most others – even for businesses not located in one of the most frequently impacted states - and using a template with links to organizations procedures and hurricane updates can be invaluable to employees.
Flash floods can occur at short notice and water levels can rise quickly in a matter of minutes. With there being a real threat to life during this type of severe weather event, being able to warn employees of flash floods as they occur can have an impact on employee safety. A sample alert template (like the one below) helps keep employees safe.
An average of 1,300 tornadoes hit the United States each year. Typically, people have 13 minutes to get to a safe place. Employees in areas with a high frequency of tornadoes need to be prepared in case of an emergency. With little notice, tornadoes can prove to be disastrous. Timely notifications can support employee safety throughout a tornado or other extreme wind event.
Wildfires can spread quickly and claim hundreds of thousands of acres in a single day. Being able to evacuate employees quickly and safely is key in a wildfire situation in order to avoid them being trapped by the flames either at their homes or in the workplace. Having an alert ready to go can help accelerate the evacuation process.
Severe winter storms can bring massive disruption to whole communities and place employees at risk of injury if they attempt to commute to work. Keep employees safe by advising them at the earliest possible opportunity of workplace closures to prevent them making unnecessary journeys. A template such as the following only takes seconds to send.
It can be hard to predict and anticipate any form of severe weather. It can never hurt to be over prepared with pre-set alert templates that can be sent out with a few clicks of a mouse. Using an easy interface and reliable system can ensure that everything runs smoothly when it is needed most. Features like automatic weather notifications and a geotargeted notifications can ensure effective employee communication and response through any storm or severe weather event.
Amelia is a marketing intern at Rave. She loves to write about anything safety related. When she’s away from the keyboard, you’ll either find her playing with her dog, ice skating, or competing in a triathlon. Amelia attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst, majoring in Political Science and Journalism.
The recent extreme heat warnings across the south and south-west of the country brought back memories of last summer...