In our recent webinar “Continuity in the Face of Coronavirus” (which you can watch here), Veoci Solution engineer Anthony DeGeorge said, “Every AAR says communication can be improved.” Sometimes these comments can just be written off. As Anthony said, communication will always be noted as a weak point in AAR.
But for some responses, the AAR tells the truth. We can, at times, see a breakdown of our communication pathways. A situation like the COVID-19 pandemic may be the perfect time for your team to find those holes, as extreme stress and conditions of the event will make those gaps clear.
Let’s identify some of the gaps, and what you can do to prevent them from developing in future crises.
No Communication Infrastructure
This reason is very straightforward, but it’s often the biggest cause for communication gaps during emergency scenarios.
Physical distance complicates communications. The COVID-19 pandemic will — and is already — demonstrating the honesty of that statement. The remote distance some emergencies force upon response teams (or just people in general) stretches thin the immediacy of information many scenarios require. It’s an “out of sight, out of mind” thing, and it’s only natural that it happens. Many teams get around this using technology.
Some do just fine with email. Others employ real-time chatting tools, or systems with structured reporting and communication tools. But even when some teams deploy these workarounds, the gap still emerges.
A team may be able to close this gap by implementing elements of different methods. A real-time chat feature could be used to share smaller updates quickly and keep conversations going. A platform could be used to capture data in a structured way simultaneously, or to roll out a plan and facilitate a response. Or maybe a tool can be used to send reminders to stakeholders to complete certain reports or give an update at a set time every day.
The best solution for this issue is simply to define a structure for your team and/or constituents to communicate, and to ensure everyone is aware of those pathways. And, if possible, test the plan in its entirety before having to use it so your team can address any other gaps in your communications strategy the exercise reveals.
It’s easy to attribute a miscommunication to something like a missed email or message. But there are times when communication fails because of an understanding gap.
This gap can surface in multiple annexes, functions, and operations within a response. Face-to-face communication is the most apparent conduit for this gap, but it can present anywhere communication is used.
For example, a form may include confusing instructions, and a person filling out the form may gather the incorrect data as a result. This circumstance could stall your organization’s current response efforts, or disrupt the recovery efforts and following after-action reports (AAR). The recipients of a notification or daily communications may also not get the message you’re trying to convey, resulting in a misalignment of your operations.
Preventing this gap from developing within your response is, again, a matter of running exercises and stressing your plans and the tools your organization deploys before a true crisis forces your organization’s hand.
Simulating an emergency scenario as faithfully as possible will push inconsistencies and discrepancies to the forefront. From here, you’ll have the time to ask your exercise’s participants what worked and what didn’t; the answers they provide will help you transform the communication system defined by your plan, making it more effective when an actual incident occurs.
Not Reaching Your Audience
This communication gap is a combination of the two listed before.
During emergencies, most organizations have different audiences they have to reach throughout the course of their response operations. Generally, these audiences break down into three distinct groups: leadership or executives, the response team, and all constituents (the last of which could be broken down further depending on the organization).
Teams at all classes of organizations — corporations, small businesses, governments, municipalities, hospitals, etc. — have to tailor the messages to the audience they’re sending information to, as well. Each audience is more receptive to a different medium (in most cases).
This is where the gap develops. If an organization’s leadership team often misses SMS or email notifications, that organization’s response team will want to avoid using those channels. The leadership team may be most receptive to a high-level dashboard, or a conference call. If the leadership team responds best to dashboards for conference calls, then an organization’s response team should craft their communication system within their plans accordingly.
Finding what channels each of your audiences respond to is, ideally, not something you and your team will want to discover during an actual emergency. Tests and exercises, again, can tell your team what methods your team should use for sending out communications. Analysis of after-action reports can tell you how to communicate effectively with each of your audiences.
Training is also a tricky way around this communication gap. You can provide your organization with training materials as part of your preparedness efforts that show them how they can find information or when your team will provide it. This eliminates the need to find what channels work best for your organization’s constituent groups and returns a little more control to your team in the planning phase of emergency preparedness.
Bridging Communication Gaps
Communication is the most important piece of any response. Every organization should build, test, and exercise their plans with this in mind, and correct any weak points that reveal themselves during these operations.
Closing communication gaps can be as simple as employing a new tool in your operation, or asking people what’s the best way to get them information. Take exercises and tests at their value to prevent these gaps from disrupting your responses when emergencies happen, and to keep your organization ahead of crises.