Hurricane’s a’Comin’: Communicating During a Natural Disaster

Hurricane weather image

Summer on the Atlantic coast! Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Sunny beaches ... quaint coastal towns ... dining al fresco ... hurricanes…

Yep, that’s right. We have officially entered the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, which unlike Fourth of July fireworks, Labor Day and beach vacations, is a much-less-looked-forward-to annual event. The season officially began on June 1, and will last throughout the summer to the end of November. Here’s the silver lining: knowing that the season is here and comes every year actually puts you – and your senior living community – in a position to be proactive. 

“Natural disasters are not fun things to think about, but it’s essential to recognize their possibility so you can create a plan that will help protect you, your residents and your community,” says Jason McCloud, Executive Director of Integrated Marketing & Communications at Sage Age Strategies. “One of the reasons seniors choose to move to a senior living facility is safety. Having a plan in place that addresses emergencies such as natural disasters will help accomplish that goal, plus give seniors and their families peace of mind.”

Being Prepared: More Than Just Taking Action 

So what does “being prepared” with emergency information mean? It’s a little more complicated than just having best practices in place. Alongside policies, procedures, plans and training, you also need to have communication plans that detail how you will broadcast information to your audience (in this case, your residents and families, among others). 

A communications plan is exactly what it sounds like: a written plan that details how you and your senior living community will communicate before, during and after a natural disaster like a hurricane. Having everything in place and understood by all parties will help make a natural disaster less of an “emergency” and more of an “event to be managed.” 

Here are situations you will need to consider – and provide answers for – in order to ensure proper communication between all stakeholders, including residents and families. 

Who are your audiences? You will have both internal and external audiences to communicate with. Internal audiences are your residents and staff members – the people who are directly affected. You’ll also want to keep external audiences informed of the situation, including (in order of importance) residents’ and staff members’ families, business vendors and the general public (especially if you will be offering assistance or shelter to seniors who are not part of your community). 

How will you communicate with your audience? Disseminating information quickly and accurately is the key during a crisis situation. Will you post updates on Twitter or Facebook? How about a notice on your website or emails to your mailing lists? You’ll also want to be sure that telephones are covered, such as a dedicated hotline as well as SMS text updates. Focus on one primary channel for updates as well as several secondary ones that can quickly switch to the primary if your first channel is compromised. Don’t try to do everything at once – having a focused approach to where you’re updating will make things easier and ensure that the information getting out is as accurate as possible. 

Who will be communicating and how? Having one person (or one group) who is responsible for posting updates and keeping everyone informed will help you remain consistent, avoid confusion and decrease the chance of any incorrect information getting out there. You’ll also want to know how this individual/group will be posting information. Via smartphone? From a computer? Again, you’ll want to have a primary source as well as a secondary one. 

How often will you be communicating? Your audiences are relying on you to post up-to-date, beneficial information so they can stay informed. Having a timeline of sorts will help keep anxiety at bay. Obviously, if there are no updates to post, then by all means, you shouldn’t be posting. At the same time, you want to avoid over-communicating (and potentially panicking individuals), so it’s good to have a steady drumbeat of updates before, during and after a situation. 

What will you do if you need to evacuate your community? If you need to evacuate your community as a matter of safety, you’ll want to make sure everything is communicated to your audiences as well, since families will want to know that their loved ones are safe and secure. This is a very stressful event, and quick, thorough and professional communication will help ease that for everyone. 

Finally, remember these points about how to communicate:

  • Be as accurate and factual as possible – stay calm and don’t get emotional
  • Keep information concise and simple
  • Respond quickly to any interaction with your audiences, whether online, in-person or over the phone

The Number One Rule: Communicate Accurately & Honestly

Having an emergency communication plan in place is essential for making sure all stakeholders are informed and on the same page. In order to stay ahead of a situation and be prepared, partnering with an integrated marketing company who has experience communicating can be a huge help. 

“Making sure that communication is disseminated to the appropriate parties is a big part of what we do at Sage Age Strategies,” says Jason. “Whether it’s through social mediapublic relations efforts, email alerts or any other form of communication, we can help craft and broadcast your message to your audience. By allowing us to help you manage communications during an event like a hurricane, we can take this complex work off your plate so you can focus on executing your preparedness strategy and ensuring that your residents and staff stay safe. 

If you need assistance in any areas of senior living development and integrated growth strategy to improve your business results, we invite you to contact us today to learn more about our proven strategies that have transformed other senior living communities like yours. 

Sage Age Strategies is a multiple-award-winning, strategic growth, marketing and consulting organization that operates exclusively in the unique senior living marketplace. For more information, please call or email Jason McCloud at 614.795.7373 / jason@sageagestrategies.com. You can also visit us on our website at www.sageagestrategies.com/.

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