Guide

Best Practice for Crisis Management Software

In this guide we explore a range of best practices to help you improve the effectiveness of your crisis management software in crisis response and resolution.

Written by Ed Jones
Marketing Strategist @ YUDU Sentinel

The effective use of crisis management software improves your ability to respond to and resolve crisis situations. It has the power to enhance crisis communications, accelerate crisis response times and speed crisis resolution. Helping you return to business as usual faster and protecting you from reputational damage.

To realise the full potential of your crisis management platform, you will need to correctly configure, maintain and utilise your system. This is best achieved through a combination of best practices. In this guide, we will cover these crisis management software best practices in significant detail.

Contents

Choose the right crisis management system

If you’re starting your journey with crisis management software, the first building block is choosing the right system for your business.

To aid you in selecting the best platform, we have outlined a series of key considerations that will help inform the decision process.

  • Ease-of-use - you want a platform that’s simple to use and navigate. Performing tasks should require only a few steps and minimise the effort to complete them, without the need for extensive training.
  • Platform Functionality - a leading platform will offer the following crisis management tools as a minimum:
    • Mass Alerting - the ability to send mass crisis alerts with 2-way communication
    • Teleconferencing - functionality to create group teleconferences where crisis teams can meet and coordinate response efforts.
    • Group instant messaging - a secure live chat space where crisis teams can communicate and share documents.
    • File management and broadcasting - the ability to store crisis management documents, control access and also broadcast them to key individuals.
    • Access controls - the ability to manage user access to both the platform and individual crisis management tools.
    • Analytics - a built-in system that tracks all actions and performance to support post-crisis analysis.
  • Deployment - you ideally want a cloud-based system that sits independently of your internal systems. This offers a secure and disaster-resistant system that remains accessible when all other systems fail.
  • Access - you want a platform that can be accessed anywhere, anytime, on any device with an internet connection. Ideally, while supporting both web browser and app-based access.
  • Support - you want a provider who offers comprehensive platform support. This includes documentation for self-support, training, and premium support that can be local and available 24/7 for more pressing issues.
  • Pricing - you want a provider who offers a clear and flexible pricing structure that aligns with the quality of their platform.

If you’re looking for more guidance, we created a similar post for choosing an emergency mass notification system that covers many of the same considerations in further detail.

Maintain up-to-date contact information

When a critical event occurs, one of the core functions of crisis management software is to alert individuals of the incident. This can be a message broadcast to a select group of individuals, or a company-wide mass notification.

Ensuring all recipients receive the correct communication on the right device, it’s critical you maintain up-to-date contact details. This includes all employees, external stakeholders and anyone else you communicate with when crisis events occur.

Allowing contact details to become outdated puts employees at risk of missing emergency communications, or receiving irrelevant alerts. At best, employees are misinformed, at worst, you risk endangering their lives.

To maintain up-to-date contact information in your crisis management system, consider the following best practices:

Regularly check contact details

Creating a regular schedule to check contact details in your crisis management system is one of the most effective ways to ensure information remains current. Coordinating with your HR department is one of the best ways to manage this process.

You can set up a monthly meeting to compare the lists together, or it can be as simple as a regular email with the most current employee contact list. Below is a list of recommended contact details you’ll want to keep and maintain in your crisis management platform contact database:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Department
  • Office
  • Primary email address
  • Secondary email address (if applicable)
  • Primary mobile number
  • Secondary mobile number (if applicable)
  • Landline number

Connect your crisis management and HR systems

If possible, connecting your crisis management system and your HR software is a simple and efficient way to keep contact information up-to-date. Once configured, any changes to contact details in your HR platform will be automatically replicated in your crisis management system.

You’ll need to check for compatibility, but most modern software systems offer the ability to connect with another through an API or a purpose-built plugin.

Send a test broadcast

Another quick and effective way to check if contact details are current is to send a test broadcast.

Once sent, you can check test broadcast results to identify undelivered communications. Cross-referencing these with your HR department to source new contact details, or remove ex-employees.

It’s important to remove incorrect information from recipient lists. Repeatedly sending communications to dead accounts can impact your sender reputation. You also run the risk of leaking sensitive crisis information to former employees.

Process for new starters and leavers

A common way for recipient lists to become outdated is through employees joining or leaving the business.

Work with your HR department to include an action in their process for new starters and leavers to update you. That way you can update your crisis management system accordingly.

Create broadcast groups

When using crisis management software with mass notification functionality, creating and maintaining broadcast groups is a notable best practice. You’ll unlock a range of crisis management and communication benefits, including the ability to:

  • Accelerate crisis communication broadcasts - a pre-prepared broadcast group lets you send crisis alerts to a team, office, or large group in just a few clicks. Saving valuable seconds when critical events or emergencies occur.
  • Send targetted alerts with personalised messaging - broadcast groups allow you to personalise your crisis alerts for different recipients and groups. One message can go to management with required actions, while the wider business gets an informational crisis alert.
  • Avoid misinformation and confusion - broadcast groups ensure only those affected by incidents will receive crisis alerts. This is most relevant when you have employees working remotely, in different offices, or countries. For example, a power outage in one office likely won’t impact remote workers, or those working in other offices.

Here are some common broadcast groups you can create to save time and personalise messaging:

  • All contacts - for when you want to send a crisis alert to all employees, partners, customers, external stakeholders, and anyone you need to inform.
  • All company - designed for crisis situations impacting the whole business and require you to inform employees only.
  • Department - created when departments require personalised crisis information or are required to perform specific tasks. Or for when a crisis situation only impacts an individual department.
  • Team - most relevant for individual teams who are required to perform specific tasks as part of your crisis response efforts.
  • Job roles - although rare, you may want to create groups where select job roles require specialist crisis communications.
  • Office buildings - for larger companies who have multiple offices in different locations across the globe.
  • Building floors - for when your office has multiple floors, most likely in high rise buildings, which may have different evacuation procedures or can be impacted differently by crisis situations.
  • Country - for multinational companies wanting to send crisis alerts personalised by geographic location.

Outside these, other broadcast groups could be created for remote workers, partners, customers, stakeholders, and any other group you may consider requires personalised crisis alerts.

Create crisis communication templates

The foundation of fast and effective crisis management is built on extensive preparation. Creating and loading up your crisis management system with pre-prepared broadcast templates is a best practice that will significantly improve crisis communication and response capabilities.

A series of well-crafted message templates for multiple crisis scenarios will allow you to:

  • Send crisis communications faster - a well-designed broadcast template requires only one or two adjustments, and it’s ready to send. By sending crisis communications faster, you’ll create a cascade effect, accelerating crisis response and resolution times.
  • Ensure clear, effective and consistent messaging - creating a template gives you the time and space to craft crisis communications that convey information in the best possible way.
  • Minimise the risk of error - a pre-prepared template allows you to craft communications free from spelling mistakes. With only a few fields to complete prior to sending, it also minimises the potential for miscommunication.

When creating your message templates, follow these best practices helping you to craft the perfect crisis alert:

  • Create templates for different communication channels - consider crafting multiple crisis alerts for a single scenario that are optimised for specific communication channels. Mediums like SMS and push notifications have strict character limits, so you must be clear and concise. While email gives you the freedom to include more detailed information, along with attachments and an email headline to capture attention.
  • Consider the purpose of the alert - when crafting your message, consider the purpose of the alert, which will ultimately shape the content:
    • Informational alerts - often for less critical situations, you are simply informing recipients of the incident. They need to be short, sharp, and to the point, and outlining any actions required of the recipient.
    • Alerts requiring confirmation - this is an alert for more urgent crisis events where you need a quick response from employees. Either to check employee safety, see if they require assistance, or are affected by the crisis. These are 2-way communications with a question that requires a simple yes/no answer.
    • Information gathering alerts - this is when you alert recipients to a crisis and need them to respond with more than a simple yes/no confirmation. It could be to check employee locations, assess the support they might need, or invite them to a crisis call to plan response efforts.
  • Cover as many crisis scenarios as possible - there’s no such thing as being too prepared for potential crisis situations. Developing crisis communication templates for an exhaustive list of scenarios will pay dividends in the long run. Here are some crisis scenarios to get you started - fire, terrorist attack, power outage, system outage, cyberattack, extreme weather, global pandemic, unauthorised visitor. Covering these off allows you to send a crisis alert in seconds, instead of losing precious minutes crafting, proofing, and seeking approval for a brand-new message.
  • Attach documents where necessary - depending on the type of crisis, it can be useful to attach critical files to crisis alerts - evacuation procedures, key contacts, remote access guidance, etc.
  • Add a call to action - if your crisis alert requires a follow-up action, you need a call-to-action to instruct the recipients of your desired response.

The benefits of crisis communication templates are amplified when combined with broadcast groups. Giving you the ability to have a ready-made crisis alert that can be sent to 1000s in under 60 seconds with just a few quick clicks.

Set assigned user roles

Just like an effective crisis management plan, you will want to assign roles for your crisis management system.

These roles are typically divided across administration, management, and implementation of the system. Depending on the size of your business and the functionality of your platform, this can be one person or many.

Below are roles we recommend you consider assigning for your crisis management system. These roles will often align closely with the existing roles in your crisis response team:

  • System administrator - this is your superuser, responsible for overall configuration and management of the platform. This includes - but is not limited to - controlling platform access, managing templates and groups, managing documents, updating contact information, testing, new user training and platform performance analysis.
  • Broadcast sender - when critical events occur, you want one person responsible for sending crisis alerts. They should be involved in creating, uploading, and managing your broadcast groups and crisis communication templates. It’s important you have an equally trained backup sender, in the event your primary broadcast sender is unavailable when a crisis event occurs.
  • Document manager - if your crisis management system has the functionality to house and distribute crisis management documentation, you’ll want a document manager. They’ll be responsible for creating, managing, and distributing your crisis management documentation.
  • Teleconference manager - likely your crisis team leaders, these individuals will be responsible for creating and leading conference calls in critical events, bringing the crisis team together to share information and coordinate response efforts.
  • Group chat manager - like the teleconference manager, group chat managers are responsible for creating and leading group chats in critical events. A space where the crisis response team can meet and coordinate incident response efforts.

Implement identity and access controls

Any reputable crisis management system will offer identity and access management functionality. Giving you control over which users can connect to the platform, what tools they can access, and the actions they can perform with said tools.

You’ll want to review and familiarise yourself with the different access controls in your crisis management platform and map them to the assigned roles you set earlier. This will ensure everyone can access the platform functionality they require and perform the tasks needed of them.

When it comes to access, it’s best practice to only grant users access to the tools they need, and the tasks they are required to perform, nothing more. You should also minimise the number of system administrators, as each additional administrator increases the risk of your system being compromised.

Warm-up sender accounts and domain whitelisting

If you’re using your crisis management system to send crisis alerts, it is best practice to warm up any sender accounts connected to the platform.

This is especially important if you plan to send mass notifications to large groups of individuals that are based outside your organisation. This is most relevant for email sender accounts, but can also apply to SMS sender accounts.

If you’re creating a new email sender account for crisis alerting, it will have no reputation or sender history with email service providers. These are of critical importance in ensuring your crisis alert is both sent and received, avoiding recipient spam folders and email sender blacklists.

When warming up your sender account, start small, sending out a few test broadcasts. Over time, you can then begin to slowly build up the size of the recipient lists. During the warm-up process, you’ll want to encourage your crisis alert recipients to whitelist your sending domain - this can include employees, partners, customers. This ensures your crisis alerts will appear in recipient inboxes, while also sending a positive signal to email service providers.

If you do this right, you’ll develop a strong sender reputation and history. So, when a crisis event occurs, you can be confident in sending mass notifications that will reach and inform all your intended recipients.

Getting this wrong, you run the risk of entire companies and email/mobile service providers blocking your crisis alerts. Preventing you from sending vital communications in crisis situations. Appearing on blacklists, or having your sender account locked, can take days to resolve. Which would cause significant damage to your crisis communications and response efforts.

Conduct testing

Testing is a critical best practice for using crisis management software in your organisation. Improving your utilisation of the software while also enhancing the wider business’s crisis response efforts.

A robust testing regime will ensure system administrators keep their knowledge and skills sharp across all crisis management tools. More broadly, employees will be reminded of key crisis management processes, response expectations, and it will help create familiarity with the platform itself.

Below are some best practices for implementing crisis management software testing in your business:

Set a regular testing schedule

Setting a regular testing schedule for your crisis management software is of the upmost importance. By design, these platforms are not intended for everyday use. Without a testing schedule, it’s possible for users to go months without using your crisis management tools. This is when knowledge and skills can get rusty, and it can negatively impact your crisis management response efforts.

Every organisation will have different opinions on what constitutes regular testing. We recommend a minimum scheduled test across the full range of functionality at least once per quarter.

If you’re testing mass notification or broadcast functionality of your platform, it would be beneficial to schedule these tests to occur inside office hours. That way, you’ll be on hand to identify any issues in real time, such as time delays between sending and receiving email and SMS communications.

Create tests to engage administrators, senders, participants and recipients

Any testing of your crisis management system should be designed to be as engaging as possible. It will motivate more people to participate and promote enhanced learning as part of the experience.

If you’re testing broadcast functionality, always consider including 2-way communications to create a feedback loop. Employees and recipients are more likely to engage and familiarise themselves with the process when a response is required. Consider a follow-up communication for all non-responders to engage them and ascertain why they didn’t respond.

If your crisis management software has teleconferencing or instant group chat tools, invite the relevant crisis response teams to participate. Run a live call, or interact in a live chat. This allows them to become comfortable with the system in a controlled and low pressure situation.

Run crisis simulations using the platform

Your crisis management software forms part of a larger crisis management response plan. By running a crisis simulation, you can simultaneously test both the functionality of crisis management tools and their effectiveness as part of an overall crisis management response plan.

Testing your crisis management plan and software together will develop a synergy between the two, giving all parties involved an appreciation of the role the platform plays.

Test everything, everywhere

Make sure to test every aspect of your crisis management software, here are just a few considerations:

  • Run tests in the office, at home, and on the move - if your platform offers web or app-based access, consider testing platform usage from multiple locations to ensure there aren’t any location-based access issues.
  • Explore compatibility across different devices - use a range of desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices when testing software. See how broadcasts appear on different devices, experience call quality in teleconferences on landline vs mobile, explore how shared documents display. If your platform has enterprise app functionality, check how it functions across handsets, and whether it will be impacted by operating system updates.
  • Experience different roles - when running a test, make sure to experience the software for each role. How to run a teleconference as a system admin, how to access crisis management documents as a user, what it’s like to be the recipient of a crisis alert.
  • Test all functionality - even if you don’t use the full capabilities of the platform, test them. Mass notifications, 2-way communications, instant messaging, teleconferencing, document sharing, analytics - if the platform has it, test it.
  • Test different communication channels - if your platform supports multichannel communications, test them all - SMS, email, voice broadcasting, in-app push notifications, social media. Also, familiarise yourself with what it’s like to be both the sender and receiver of each.

Post-testing analysis and feedback

The purpose of testing your crisis management software is to improve knowledge, benchmark your performance and identify areas for improvement. You can only achieve this if you analyse the key outcomes of your test and collect feedback.

If your platform has built-in analytics, this process is made easier as you’ll have ready-made reports from which you can gain valuable insight. Your analysis can be improved further when augmented with feedback from all testing participants. Your end-users are far more likely to engage when their opinions are heard.

Deliver platform training

Training employees to familiarise themselves with your crisis management software will bring significant benefits. You’ll improve the overall usage and effectiveness of the platform, employees will also have a better understanding of the role they play in crisis response.

When delivering training, administrators and platform users will need hands-on experience in configuring, managing, and performing actions on the platform. The wider business will also need an awareness of the purpose your crisis management software fulfils, along with what’s expected of them when they receive crisis alerts, or invites to teleconferences and group chats.

Below are a series of training best practices we recommend for making the most of your crisis management software.

Attending training with the platform provider

One of the best ways to learn and make the most of the full functionality of your crisis management system is to attend training with your platform provider. This is especially important if you’re just getting started with your crisis management software and configuring it for the first time.

Platform training for new starter process

Training on your crisis management platform should be included in your new starter on-boarding process. The level and intensity of this training should be reflective of the employees' involvement in using the platform.

Employees who are only receiving crisis alerts, or joining teleconferences and group chats, will need basic training. Those involved in leadership activities like creating and sending broadcasts, or system administration will require more extensive hands-on training.

Regular refresher sessions

A well-known concept in the training community is the forgetting curve. Most often represented as a graph, it seeks to quantify the amount of information forgotten over time following training.

Hermann Ebbinghaus, who conducted the original study, theorised that knowledge retention and recall improved with repeated training. So, after the initial training of users on your crisis management software platform, we recommend you schedule regular refresher sessions to improve knowledge retention.

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