Thursday, July 11, 2013

How Can You Manage A Crisis Without A Phone?

For years the Institute for Crisis Management encouraged clients to provide pagers for key crisis team members and all of our staff and consultants carried pagers, so no matter when or where we might be, we were always just a phone call away.

Of course mobile phones made a big difference and only a little more than a year ago ICM cancelled our pager service.  Not because we wanted to.  The back-up system of pagers was still a minor expense for such a valuable back-up notification  system. 

We gave up because the major pager companies were not maintaining their relay systems and we could no longer count on them.  So, mobile phones became even more important.

Well, folks, we are all facing a potential communications disaster, and the Boston Marathon bombing should have captured the attention of everyone in crisis management.

ICM has been advocating for years that every organization should have a back-up phone system in their offices because it doesn't take much to isolate the crisis team if your company phone system crashes.  Most modern office, plant, hospital, store and school phone systems are computerized and require electricity to work.  A power outage or a system failure could leave you with no way to call out or manage your crisis.

Again, cell phones are assumed to always be an option, but I wouldn't want to count on them.  If the office phone system is not working, the mobile phone system is likely to fail, soon after.

Stay with me, I'm getting to the really scary parts.

For years we have recommended every organization, no matter how big or small, should have a few old fashion single line business phones available to use if a crisis strikes and takes out the main phone system.  Many of our clients have taken that advice and have from two to eight old fashion, single-line business phones installed and ready if/when the need arises.

Now the first of two even more scary parts:

Within minutes of the Boston Marathon bombing it was almost impossible to make a mobile phone call into or out of the Boston area.  The equipment didn't fail, it was a matter of load capacity.  Everyone was trying to call a loved one or a friend and the system crashed.

When a plant blows up, word gets out there is a shooter in the office, or any other type of crisis strikes, employees immediately grab their mobile phones and start calling out to tell their spouse or friends and simultaneously family and friends start trying to call in and no one can talk to anyone, just like in Boston.

The second scary part:

AT&T -- the phone company -- is beginning to seek permission from regulators to begin dismantling the land-line infrastructure -- the poles and wires that have carried billions of phone conversations for generations -- and replace wired home-phones with mobile service.

Maintaining that system of poles, wires and underground wires eats into the company's profits.

So, the question I must pose:  What kind of communication system will you be able to depend on when all hell breaks lose and you go into crisis mode?