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Communicating in a crisis

Accurate and clear communication is imperative

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  • Communicating with your customers and staff
  • How will you communicate if there's a power failure?
  • How will you communicate if telephone networks are down?

When a crisis event occurs, timely, accurate and clear communication is imperative. Visitors will want to know how they will be impacted and staff will be concerned and want information.

Communicating with customers and staff

News travels fast so your clients will soon be in touch. What are you going to say to them? What should your staff say?

How well you communicate can have a major impact on how comfortable clients feel through the emergency situation. Remember that you're in the customer service business – the easier the emergency situation is for clients, the more likely they will return to your business.

Plan now:

  • Prepare a bulletin and keep it updated. The tone should be factual and calm with an absolute emphasis of following the advice of the emergency services. Try drafting an example of a bulletin now. Decide on your layout and standard headings so you have this to hand if you need it.
  • We live in a time of instant communication – your customers will use websites and social media to inform themselves. Plan how you will review your own website and how you will post some information online immediately.
  • Plan how you will keep staff informed about what's happening regarding the emergency through bulletins or staff meetings. Remember to also keep staff informed who are not currently at work.

Accurate information is imperative

The key to informing customers in your care about an incident is to provide official information that will enable them to make informed decisions about what to do.

Providing incorrect advice to any member of the public in relation to a crisis event may put you in a position where you are liable for their safety.

Tips on how to provide official emergency information

  • Display warnings, information and maps from the relevant emergency services agency website. For example, install an information board at reception.
    • NOTE: Warnings are updated as the situation changes, so ensure you have the latest warning for the latest incident information.
  • Direct customers to the relevant website or Twitter account, the information line, the app, your emergency broadcaster or an accredited visitor information centre for the latest information and warnings.
  • Provide customers with informative resources such as community information guides and visitor safety brochures to help them understand what to do on high risk days or if there's a fire.
    • Free resources are available to order through the Victorian Bushfire Information Line by phoning free call number 1800 226 226, or by visiting their website.
  • If you need to inform customers verbally, read the official advice and advise where they can seek more information.
  • For help with English, people can call the Translating and Interpreting Service on free call number 131 450 and ask them to telephone the VicEmergency Hotline.

What if there's a power failure?

To minimise the impact of power outages on your communication activities, plan how you will communicate with staff, visitors, emergency services and suppliers.

Consider the following:

  • Know if your business's landline telephones need to be connected to the power supply.
  • If you have a telephone that works with battery backup equipment during power outages, test the battery periodically, understand how long it should last, learn how to replace it, and consider having a spare battery that is continuously fully charged.
  • If you have a telephone that won't work if there's a power failure, then you need to consider whether this is the only telephone that will be available to you.
  • If you're not sure if your phone will work during a power failure, you should:
    • read the instructions for the telephone to see if there's a warning label stating that this type of telephone will not work if there's a power failure.
    • test your telephone –  unplug it from the electricity supply and make a call (make sure the phone is still connected to the telephone socket).
  • If you don't need to use the phone right away, you can disconnect the battery to prevent it from draining and plug it back in when you need to receive or make calls.  
  • Charge your mobile phone if you're advised of an imminent emergency. Also consider keeping an extra battery and a car charger on hand.
  • Charge your laptop or tablet computer if a storm is coming. If your electricity goes out but secure WiFi is available in your community, you may be able to use your computer or tablet to go online and send emails.
  • Official emergency broadcasters are an important source of information during emergencies, so consider keeping a battery-operated, solar-powered, or hand-crank-operated radio or portable television for use during power outages.

For more information visit Energy Safe Victoria and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

What if telephone networks fail?

  • Limit non-emergency phone calls – this will minimise network congestion, free up "space" on the network for emergency communications, and conserve battery power if you are using a mobile phone.
  • For non-emergencies, try text messaging from your mobile phone. 
  • Adjust your mobile phone – check your wireless device or manual for ways to conserve battery power, such as dimming the brightness of your display screen and disabling certain applications.
  • Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call –  redialing a mobile call multiple times in quick succession can increase network congestion, further limiting the ability of all users to place calls.
  • If you have 'call forwarding' on a landline phone in your business, consider forwarding those calls to your mobile number –particularly in the event of an evacuation –  so you can continue to receive incoming calls to your business telephone number.