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Internal Communication

One of the most discussed items coming out of the events of September 11, 2001, was the need for effective internal communication. Many companies became very concerned about what systems and policies were in place to inform employees within the organization about what was going on, provide instructions on what actions to take, and locate employees to make certain they were safe. Even minor events such as the Nisqually earthquake in Puget Sound in February 2001 demonstrated that the cellular phone system is easily maxed out. In the first hour after that event, only fortunate users were able to check on family or friends by either land line or wireless phone. The Internet remained very much intact. Company officials from the rest of the country resorted to email and internal Internet communication, such as through the communication management system, to ascertain the condition of employees and operation of the facilities in the area impacted by the quake.

Internet technology needs to be part of the comprehensive plan for employee and leadership communication in case of large-scale internal or external crises. The Internet-based communication management system described earlier can play a key role because of the ability to launch new sites on the fly and the ability to control access to any site. An internal-only site can be launched to keep employees informed and a different site can be launched exclusively for the management team. One user of such a system uses a site specifically for employee information related to weather conditions. During bad weather, employees can check the site to determine if there are changes in work locations or work hours or if they are just to stay home. Of course, they need not check the site for the information because the same information can be instantly pushed to them via email and telephone.

It is becoming common practice among users of such systems during drills and actual events to establish secured documents on the private site for executives only. Different security levels can control who can see which documents, so that incident status reports containing raw information not yet confirmed can record events as they unfold. Images such as helicopter overflights or photos or videos of the activities can be loaded and retained for internal use only. As executive leadership is increasingly dispersed in this global economy, making use of these communication tools simply to provide management with the information needed to make fast and effective decisions is extremely important.

One user of the technology described here is the communication manager for a global oil company. A large tanker carrying gasoline ran aground in a sensitive environmental area on the East Coast of the United States. The incident occurred after work hours at night and the communication manager launched a site using a prepared incident dark site from his computer in a spare bedroom. Built within that system was a database of more than 1,800 reporters. He used a template to complete an initial statement release that described the grounding and what was being done. The information site used a special incident response domain name that was registered in advance for just such eventualities. Company executives in London were able to view this site from their homes or offices and keep up with the very latest information. A widespread release was never sent because the tanker, a new double-hulled ship, was floated off the bar at high tide and no gasoline or anything else was spilled. It was a potential nightmare that ended happily, particularly for the communication manager who demonstrated to executives in the company that he was exceedingly well prepared to manage communication not only with them, but with the entire world if needed.

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