Hurricane Harvey: How Businesses Can Communicate in Crisis

Our thoughts are with the people of Texas as they experience a historic tropical storm. We hope that everyone stays safe! News of Hurricane Harvey brings to mind the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Several team members were in NYC when Sandy hit and witnessed firsthand the damage it caused to the city, so we're sending our best wishes to those in the affected areas.

Extreme weather events can devastate businesses of all sizes, and in times like this, it is important for business owners to communicate with employees and customers alike. Here are a few tips on how to adapt your phone system to the situation and stay safe.

Flooding disrupts business operations

Inform customers of the situation

In case of a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, one of the first things a business should do is inform customers of the situation. This means updating your website, posting on your social media accounts, and changing your phone recordings and voicemail greetings.

Uploading a new announcement, or message that plays when callers dial your main phone line, is a quick way to convey changes in your business's status during the storm. It's also a good idea to have your team update their individual voicemail greetings to reflect the situation. Employees can dial to their voicemail boxes and record a new message using their cell phone. This way, callers who skip your phone menu will have a second opportunity to hear the message.

While these recordings do not need to be updated as frequently as other channels, at minimum you should mention your current operational status, where updates can be found online, and that you may take longer than normal in responding to inquiries. It's probably not a good idea to gvive a specific re-opening date, since it's hard to predict when the flooding will subside. Finally, end the message by thanking customers for their patience and support. For a sample script for inclement weather, see our business voicemail greeting blog.

Working remotely in a safe location away from the storm

Let employees work from a safe, remote location

If your employees are safely evacuated and able to work from a remote location, they can take advantage of softphones and call forwarding features to stay connected to co-workers and customers. That's how our employees communicated with each other when Sandy flooded the interior of our office building.

Softphones are software phones that allow employees to make business phone calls from laptops, PCs, tablets, smartphones, web browsers, and other devices. Some softphones offer business grade features, such as conferencing, video calling, call transfers, call recording, and other capabilities that can meet your communication needs during the storm.

Softphones allow employees to work from any location that has an internet connection, even if on-site phones have been lost or destroyed in the flooding. Another option, if WiFi grows spotty, is to forward all calls directly to employee cell phones. This can typically be done from a phone system's online admin portal.

Abandoned warehouse due to temporary close of business

Communicate opened/closed offices depending on storm status

A business with multiple locations, some of which are in the impacted flood zone, might want to update call routing rules and re-distribute incoming calls. This can be done either by changing your business hour rules, or re-routing all calls to the affected location to a different destination. This ensures that customers are still able to reach a company representative with urgent issues.

Offices that remain open during the hurricane might want to update their recordings to deal with call influxes from closed locations. For example, you can add the following line to your welcome message:

If you were trying to reach our Houston office, we will do our best to help you, as that location is temporarily closed due to Hurricane Harvey.

Search and rescue crews search for stranded residents

Update 911 location for easier search & rescue

While getting to safety is the number one priority, having access to emergency services at your temporary business location is equally important. If your business is currently housed in an emergency shelter, or if it may otherwise need to move, it's a good idea to update your E911 location to reflect your new address.

E911 is a cloud phone system feature that enables emergency workers to locate the geographic location of someone who calls 911 on your phone network. A business's physical address is typically listed as the E911 location.

If your business abandons its normal location for dryer ground, update your E911 location as soon as possible. Should the storm surge again, it's important that emergency personnel know the business's current operating location, to avoid confusion during search and rescue operations. This is something we also recommended during Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene.

Most Importantly: Stay Safe

As the storm continues to dump record amounts of rain across the Gulf states, the most obvious priority for those affected is to get to safety. After that, business owners can login to their phone system account and use some of the ideas mentioned above to communicate with customers and keep the business running. We hope that everyone stays safe and receives the help they need as they face this extraordinary storm.

For more tips on preparing for future business emergencies, read our previous blog on 6 Simple Steps to Setup a Business Emergency Phone Plan.

Topics: SMB Leadership, Business Technology