After waking up bright and early, my morning routine consists of a little breakfast, coffee and catching some news on the television before I head out to the office. Pretty standard. Sometimes, however, I am hesitant to turn on the news. Sometimes, I just want to leave the TV off. With recent headlines like Fort Hood and the Washington Mudslide, sometimes I just want to tune out the world. But things happen. Accidents happen. Extreme weather happens. And, unfortunately, public violence and acts of terror happen too.
Since the ostrich approach of burying our heads isn’t practical, our best defense against dangerous situations is to be prepared. Now, it’s easy to say, “Sure, I’m prepared” but are you really?
If you are, great, you are ahead of the game, but since the foundation of being prepared is to always check and verify, lets discuss some critical preparations incase disaster strikes. Being proactive about emergency preparedness can save you time, money and, even more importantly, it can ensure the safety and well-being of your tenants, staff and customers during a crisis.
Let’s start at the beginning. The first and most basic preparation is to develop an Emergency Action Plan and crisis communication strategy. A great resource for emergency planning is Ready.gov.
Your Emergency Action Plan should include a contingency strategy for a variety of situations. Start by making a list. Two columns: Emergencies and Actions. Each emergency may require specific responses. Think extreme weather, power outages, acts of terror, a fire, riot or shooting—these are not pleasant things to think about but it is a necessity for Shopping Centers who hold the public’s trust to keep them safe.
The next steps are to identify key personnel and a logical chain of command for emergency communications. A Shopping Center’s tenants and staff will inevitably work extended hours and have several shifts. Make sure you have identified at least a primary and secondary person for important roles to cover any absences or shift changes. Make sure your tenants and staff know who has the authority to make decisions and give orders and who is responsible for sending emergency notifications and other crisis communications.
Once you have established a well-developed emergency and communication plan and identified key personnel, your next steps are training and testing—both of which are vital to the success of your Emergency Action Plan. Your next steps are training and testing—both of which are vital to the success of your Emergency Action Plan. No, that sentence isn’t repeated by accident. I wanted to make sure I had your attention. Training and testing your plans is where most people fail. It is imperative to make sure your plans are understood by your workforce. Your Shopping Center should hold emergency preparedness training for new tenants and regularly schedule refresher training. If possible, set aside a time to hold emergency preparedness drills for reinforcement. As a result, you will be able to see if your plan has any gaps that need to be addressed before a real emergency occurs.
Testing your communication systems goes hand and hand with training. A Mass Notification System is a great complement to a Shopping Center’s Emergency Action Plan and, if used, should be tested for several reasons. First, routine testing helps determine if your contact database is up-to-date. If test messages are undeliverable or have low readership, it may be time to request updated contact information from your tenants and staff. Testing also helps reinforce training and creates awareness about how tenants would receive information during an actual crisis situation.
If your Shopping Center plans to use a Mass Notification System as part of their emergency communication strategy make sure you also hold proper training on the system itself. Identify administrators and designate specific people who will use the system during an emergency. When creating a strategy for a variety of emergency situations, take the time to write pre-loaded messages that correspond with each critical situation. Being able to access pre-written notifications will save you time during an actual disaster. Lastly, plan for post crisis communications as well. Keeping your tenants and staff—and other stakeholders—informed after the emergency will help minimize rumors and keep information flowing.
It will take more than a little time and effort on your part to put together a robust Emergency Action Plan and make critical preparations to ensure you’re ready. The time and effort spent will be worth it—especially if you click on the television one morning to discover a crisis unfolding at your Shopping Center. Life is unpredictable and public places cannot afford to be unprepared. The good news is you can start today. Take a look at ready.gov or Jonathan Bernstein’s The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications, which outlines critical pre-crisis and post-crisis steps you can apply to your Shopping Center, make the critical preparations I described and you will be on your way.