For the past week, Northern California has been fighting massive wildfires that to-date, have taken the lives of 40 people and destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures.
Fires are still burning but the effected counties are hopeful as winds have diminished and several mandatory evacuations have been lifted, allowing residents to begin returning to their homes.
This outbreak has become one of the deadliest in the state’s history and has undoubtedly caused many businesses and organizations to look to their business continuity plans for relief and recovery.
Yet, what has been exposed are flaws in several Northern California county’s emergency alert systems. Wildfires are considered a massive threat as they can easily start, quickly spread and be difficult to contain. It is estimated that individuals have just minutes to escape danger.
Counties took varying approaches to notify residents—some used a Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, some took to social media or used reverse 911 calls to landlines while others sent no official alert. The results of these varying approaches have identified major gaps that businesses should consider when evaluating and enacting their own emergency response plans:
1. Not Having an Emergency Response Plan in Place
The biggest gap in an emergency response is not having a plan in place. You don’t want to spend time creating your messaging and distribution plans while an incident is unfolding. By planning in advance, you can tailor your communication strategy to minimize the likelihood of negative impacts and miscommunication.
2. Sending Notifications Too Late
When incidents like wild fires happen, they happen fast and require immediate action. Part of having a plan in place requires advanced planning of collecting and importing contact data, testing the systems and setting up timeliness and processes for notification distribution.
3. Having Limited Reach
Many California counties struggled to reach all residents. Sonoma County for example, only had 2% of the population’s cell phone numbers. Finding ways to capture correct and complete data should be part of your business continuity planning.
4. Not Being Able to Send Notifications in a Variety of Formats
Communicating during an incident is not a one size fits all model. Effective communication takes into account how individuals will receive this message based on their preferred or accessible communication channels.
5. Finding Time to Prioritize System Mainteance
For business that have a robust, agile emergency notification system in place, there are always opportunities to improve and optimize your use with the help of AssuranceNM’s Healthcheck services.
Emergency Notification Management Done Right
California’s Lake County has been praised for its emergency response actions. Upon realizing their 64,000 residents were in imminent danger, they sent call and text alerts to all phones via FEMA’s WEA system, along with a community notification sending officers door to door.
This action has arguably contributed to the lives of residents being saved as the county has no reported fatalities.
What’s encouraging is that many of the counties are realizing the gaps within their systems and are re-evaluating their efforts as part of their after-action planning. Don’t let your organization fall short when it comes to emergency notifications-- enable the help of emergency notification software to help you set plans in place and act fast in the event of a disaster.
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Written by Assurance Software
Assurance Software takes your company’s enterprise-wide business continuity and resiliency program to the next level. With Assurance as your go-to partner for continuity and resilience, you can confidently mitigate risk, manage recovery, and safeguard your employees, customers, operations and brands.