Spring thaw exposes flood anxieties and still-frozen emergency communications plans

With the anniversary of the Southern Alberta floods looming, are organizations now any better prepared for emergencies?

CALGARY, ALBERTA– From cold snaps and ice storms to polar vortex windchill, Canadians are emerging from one of the coldest and snowiest winters in decades. It has been a long, bitter winter but are we really ready for spring? Questions around emergency preparedness are naturally arising as the record snowfall blanketing cities across the country begins to melt and is already causing flooding in some areas.

A recent Ipsos Reid study reveals critical gaps in emergency response plans following the 2013 Southern Alberta floods and the need to take action to prepare before disaster strikes again. In 2013, severe weather like heavy snow, rain and floods directly affected more than 3.5 million Canadians. Toronto’s ice storm wreaked havoc and cost the city in excess of $100 million. It has been Winnipeg’s second coldest winter on record since 1938, leaving hundreds of homes with frozen pipes. And Canada’s largest natural disaster, the 2013 Southern Alberta floods, is still fresh in the minds of nervous Albertans. There’s plenty of focus on the preparedness of homeowners living in high-risk areas but questions still surround the readiness of corporations across Canada. 

According to the “2013 Calgary Flood & State of Emergency Corporate Crisis Communications Study”, 80 per cent of large Calgary organizations surveyed had an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) in place before the floods but just 44 per cent of these plans included emergency communications plans and protocols. The lack of communication systems and limited access to organizational databases hindered the speed and efficiency of several companies’ efforts. Email and manual calling were the primary methods of communication used during the flood (92 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively). Of the organizations surveyed, only 20 per cent factored contact lists into their ERP, just 19 per cent said they were able to reach employees and a mere 8 per cent said people clearly knew what to do.

“Spring is a perfect opportunity to take a fresh look at these too-low numbers and see how we can better prepare ourselves with forward-thinking solutions before another flood or crisis,” says Steve Hardy, director of RallyEngine, an app-based internal communications system, which commissioned the independent study.

“Approximately two-thirds of Canadians and more than 90 per cent of business people now use smartphones. Ninety-one per cent of adults are within arm’s reach of their mobile phone 24/7,” he says. “It’s possible now to easily reach and inform far more people – and just the right people – using now-common internet and mobile technology.”

Approximately four in ten surveyed organizations updated their ERPs following the floods, but many overlooked vital information such as contact lists, roles and responsibilities, or steps for business continuity. Hardy says the study revealed that leaders of some of these large organizations either didn’t have up-to-date company-wide directories, couldn’t access their directory physically or virtually, or weren’t able to reach the people responsible for such important but overlooked lists. As a result, communications were more manual and less efficient.

“It can be very difficult to find this information in a crunch. The most important factor in a crisis is an organization’s people. Are they ok? Where are they? Are they available to help? Even the best plan falls apart if the right people can’t be alerted, informed, and rallied when needed.”

Hardy points out that municipalities and emergency management agencies did remarkable work during the 2013 flood. “Over the last several months, they’ve been diligently analyzing what went well and what didn’t, especially with regards to communications, so that they’re even more prepared and resilient next time. There’s no reason why corporations shouldn’t be just as focused and proactive.”

If the 2013 floods taught us anything, it was how resilience and timely responses are critical to ensuring positive outcomes in the face of a crisis. Versatile internal communications systems like RallyEngine facilitate nimble business continuity and can be set up within weeks, not months.

To download the full Ipsos Reid 2013 Calgary Flood & State of Emergency Corporate Crisis Communications Study, click here.

About RallyEngine

RallyEngine is a powerful and streamlined app-based internal communications system that facilitates nimble business continuity. Designed for organizations with dispersed teams or mobile workforces, the system works by having team members install an app on their smartphone, which connects to the RallyEngine server, providing a channel to transmit location data, important information, and push notifications in real-time.

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