During crisis events that transpired in 2018, a number of organizations that had installed Ushahidi TenFour on employees’ phones failed to turn on or use the emergency check-in capability during the crisis. Instead, they reverted to texts and phone calls and other messaging options. It was chaotic and time consuming, those organizations reported back to us. As a team, we were confused. We didn’t understand why those organizations chose not to use TenFour in the precise situation for which it was exactly designed.

We asked some questions and learned a hard but absolutely critical lesson with regard to emergency notification and response and tools. If you don’t either a) have a set protocol that dictates a tool and a clear person/people in charge to use that tool, such as a security officer, in a crisis, or b) make the tool a regular part of people’s lives, you can’t expect people to turn to them in a crisis. In retrospect, this is blindingly obvious. The last thing someone wants to deal with in a real crisis is layering on more unfamiliar technology at a moment when time is of the essence.

What’s more, the human brain simply discards little used pieces of information. This is logical. There is only so much space in the grey filing cabinet. So, in that sense, even remembering the name of the app might be a problem. To surmount this problem you need to either have a trained Security Officer on staff, or a well rehearsed protocol. For most big companies or NGOs working in risky environments, this is standard practice. But we’ve found that most small and medium business, community orgs, etc. do not have these processes in place. As such, we need to give people a reason to use any crisis response tool more often and give them the structure and guidance on what to do to drive ongoing engagement. (Product note: Driving more use of the product, as well, is critical to our own efforts to improve the user experience of TenFour.) With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to introducing an emergency response and notification system into your organization and how to make sure the team remembers to use it in a crisis (also check out our other post on seven steps to building an effective emergency plan.)

Identify “Crisis Captains” and train them well

When a new technology is being introduced into an organization that requires some user buy-in, the best sell is often the inside sell. An HR or IT or Operations and Security team can run sessions teaching all employees how to use a crisis response and check-in system as a one-off. But for these systems to stick, you need to embed and distribute knowledge inside the organization. That’s what the TenFour Crisis Captains (or pick your name) can do. These are the TenFour experts, the ones who know it the most – and the ones who are truly responsible for its use during crisis. Logically, these should also be people whose job it is to make sure employees are OK, but that’s not mandatory. Identify your Captains, give them extra training, maybe even build some sort of bonus incentive or nice gift into adoption. T-shirt? Water bottles? An air horn? Think of the possibilities!

Build systematic approach with templates and a checklist

So everyone has downloaded and set up your check-in app. Now what? The reason that organizations which are really serious about crisis response have prepared “just-in-case” items like evacuation plans, your organization needs to create a crisis plan that designates responsibility and lays out a list of activities that need to happen. In a crisis, you want it to be checklist simple rather than ad hoc and improvisational. We actually recommend that this include different scenarios. For example, you may want to provide one scenario for an incident in one country or one city (if you are a multinational or multi-location), one scenario for when the lead Captain is not responsive, and another scenario depending on the incident. For example, cell and SMS networks may totally flood during a crisis and communications via fatter pipes like corporate fiber via email or other online-only tools may actually be better. These contingency plans should be publicly available to everyone, both online and as a PDF. It’s also good to go over them periodically in a meeting where that is the dedicated purpose of the meeting - it should only take 15 minutes of your team’s time. Without a system, there is no order.

Create a reason for everyone to use the system weekly or daily

If you have worked in a large corporation, you all have probably been subject to the annoying quarterly “Fire Drill” – the stampede down the stairwells. How many of you remember the instructions on how to evacuate? Hands down, crisis geeks. But more seriously, without a real reason to use the check-in or crisis response tool on a very regular basis, employees will never become comfortable with it. We recognized this and built in functionality that allows for “Flash Polls” and other fun ways to collect team feedback. To keep this fresh for Ushahidi employees, we ping them via TenFour once or twice per week. We use it to ask for product feedback, to get to know eachother better (Tea or coffee? Dogs or cats?),, and for voting on collective decisions. The irony here is that HR teams pay good money for feedback apps and flash polling. We give it to you for free! We try to keep it fun and light. But the expectation is that everyone participates. We also plan on layering in some real crisis response drills that will build our experience and make the real thing easier to execute.

Train Captains, Make A Plan, Keep It Fresh And Fun

If you follow these three steps, you will be way ahead of the game when a crisis actually does happen. Between weather events, cyberattacks, and all other manner of disruptions, the chances are your organization will be affected by at least one serious crisis over the course of the next few years. With a little bit of planning and foresight, your crisis response can run like clockwork with minimal chaos.