On Saturday, January 13th, the Hawaii State government faced a difficult crisis communication mishap. A mass emergency alert was broadcast to everyone in the state saying a nuclear missile was inbound toward Hawaii. Residents and visitors sought out shelter. The problem was that the message turned out to be a false alarm. A state agency was doing an internal drill about emergency preparedness, and the wrong button was pushed.
Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai called the State’s lack of appropriate safeguards “absolutely unacceptable.” Beyond not having sufficient procedural safeguards in place for sending the message, the State wasn’t able to appropriately mitigate their error. It took 38 minutes for a correction to be issued. During those 38 minutes, people in Hawaii panicked.
So, what can we learn from this unfortunate event? For one, the message demonstrated the effectiveness, power and reach of emergency alert systems. Even though incorrect content was sent, it highlighted how quickly and simultaneously the public was made aware of a critical situation.
In addition to showing the power of having an emergency notification system, this event also highlighted the need for a company to have policies and procedures in place. It is important to have an emergency notification system that allows you to implement good safeguards. It is also important to have the ability to follow up quickly if misinformation is sent out (or if other follow-up is needed).
While very few companies are tasked with sending messages about nuclear crises, there are other types of crises and emergencies that can happen. Companies should be prepared to respond to inclement weather, active shooters, security breaches, or other threats to employee safety. Companies need both a good crisis communication platform and sound emergency protocols in place before an emergency happens. For example:
- Designate who is allowed to send out different types of messages. Companies can customize their procedures depending on the type of message. They might allow relatively broad access for sending basic messages (for example, letting employees know that the building will open an hour late due to winter weather). But, if there is a more sensitive message (for example, an immediate evacuation order), sending capacities might be limited to a smaller group of personnel in order to make mishaps less likely.
- Require a two-person approval process for highly sensitive messages. With the RedFlag Mass Notification system, a company can customize their crisis communication policies. They can have a two-step process for highly sensitive messages and require a second person to approve the message before it is sent. This makes errors similar to the situation in Hawaii much less likely to occur.
- Follow up quickly with additional information. Hawaii officials knew within three minutes that the error had happened, but their system didn’t allow for impromptu messages to be sent. It took 38 minutes to program and send the false alarm message. With RedFlag, no programming is needed. Additional messages can be sent quickly. During a crisis, information may need to be sent as it becomes available. RedFlag allows for a quick and flexible approach to mass communications.
If your company would like to review your crisis communication procedures and see if RedFlag is right for you, contact us. We would love to chat and see if RedFlag is the best crisis communication platform for you.