The first in a series of thought leader pieces on communicating during and after an emergency. What can the education sector learn from the business world?
Graham Dockrill, serial entrepreneur, investor, company director and business consultant, says it all comes down to thinking about what information you will need, and how you are going to access it in an emergency situation.
The Immediate Aftermath
Back in 2011 when the devastating Christchurch earthquake took place, Graham was a co-director of Hairy Lemon, a design company with thirty employees. They were located on the third floor of a seven story building on Victoria Street, “In terms of communications, we were really lucky. We had our eyes opened when the smaller shake hit the city in the previous September. My senior management team made the decision there and then to print off all of our employees’ contact details and keep them in our wallets or purses. It seems so low tech now but without those numbers things would have been very problematic.”
When the 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch’s central business district, Graham’s office evacuated, never to return. He and his management team were able to manually text everyone as soon as telecommunications were restored and check that everyone was safe, “If we hadn’t carried those numbers out on our persons, it would have been a far more drawn out process.”
Graham reflects that today, preparedness is just as critical, “Nowadays it won’t be a piece of paper but whatever the system, the principles are the same. It needs to be accessible outside the office, up to date, and efficient. You have to have a plan.”
Mental Health, Well-being & Operations
Once Graham had ensured that all his staff were unharmed, the next phase of communications had two distinct components, “On the one hand we needed to check in on staff welfare and support them as they struggled with the damage to their homes and the impact on their families. On the other side, we needed to manage operations and ensure business continuity.”
Although only nine years ago, video conferencing was not an option, “I guess we did a low-tech version of the Zoom and Teams meetings that businesses are relying on through COVID-19. People would meet in small groups at one staff member’s house and we would conference call in to support them.”
For Graham, the important lesson learned during this stage was that businesses must remember the importance of data security and keeping track of communications, “Back then it wasn’t as much of a challenge as it is today. We didn’t have so many non ‘company-sanctioned’ communication platforms such as Facebook Messenger and What’s App. Even so people can start using a chat service to check in with each other, and then it is a slippery slope to sending company documents via that medium. You need to establish clear protocols.”
Take-Aways for Pulling through a Crisis
Having led a business successfully through the Christchurch Earthquake and having since advised numerous clients, Graham rates effective communication as critical, “An organisation needs to have simple and accessible systems in place to facilitate an immediate response to a crisis, and to provide longer term support, both on a personal, as well as an operational level.”