December 2013


Communicating During Disasters or Other Unexpected Occurrences

Super Storm Sandy is now history. We move on, as after most disasters, to an analysis of how we might avoid miscommunication and the repetition of problems. After 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center, a universal awareness was created regarding backups and storage of essential data in an off-site, secure location. Sandy and other similar weather or emergency events can cause us to look at our systems and processes for communicating with our employees. We are now into this year’s storm season and it is wise to think about it now and be prepared.

Your employees may need a way to call in to the company to determine if the site is open for business in the wake of a blizzard, hurricane, flood, or fire. Not a problem for the portion of the workforce that speaks English. If your plant is closed, they won’t show up for work if they have called in. But what about the sometimes-larger percentage of your workforce who speak little or no English? They may be unaware of procedures and unable to understand a message delivered in English? What can you put into place to be sure that your immigrant workers do not fight through poor conditions and inclement weather only to arrive at a plant that has been closed? Following Sandy, we were asked to suggest a solution for a company with this exact problem. The company wanted to establish some way for non-English speaking employees to contact the company to learn if the workplace was open and accessible. Something that has worked for us is a virtual phone system, an on-line solution. For a small monthly fee, a company can establish a toll-free number, set up scripts in the relevant language(s) to be accessed through extensions. Language Directions has an introductory greeting, which includes pre-recorded instructions in Mandarin and in Spanish to select an extension for further instruction. The selected extension has a more detailed message in that language with specific instructions for that group of workers. A company can utilize an employee who speaks clearly in his or her native language to make the recording, or you can use a company like ours to provide you with a sound file of your chosen script in any language. There are a few of these “virtual switchboard” companies who can provide you with specific answers about the technology involved. It is very inexpensive. During our power outage, all incoming calls received our pre-recorded message and voicemail messages to us were logged for retrieval when the power and Internet connections became operational.

It is reassuring to know that when your limited English workforce needs to find out emergency information, they can call in to a toll-free number and be directed to an informational message in their language to guarantee complete understanding of what to do. Utilizing your own workers in this project can build rapport as well as save money. And if there are reasons that using your employees is impossible or inappropriate, we stand ready to help.