When a disaster strikes, whether it be natural or manmade, it’s crucial that public organizations be able to communicate with their communities quickly and efficiently. However, that can create a massive influx of communications data, all of which must be made available in the event of a public records request. In a recent webinar, Mike Pagani, Senior Director of Product Marketing and Chief Evangelist at Smarsh is joined by Jay Grewe, Business Development Executive, Public Sector, to discuss how your organization can prepare to capture this deluge of records, make them available on demand, and to offer some tips on how to use this data for post-event debriefing.
To properly prepare your organization for an emergency, you must first define which types of electronic communications are currently in use and how these channels will be utilized in the event of a disaster. Will your organization send out public safety text messages to the community? Will email be the primary form of communication? Will your website feature regular updates? Because each channel offers its own unique benefits and drawbacks, how you choose to reach your community can determine to a great degree how effective your disaster response efforts are.
An especially crucial question is how your organization will handle time-sensitive internal communications. In an emergency, your organization must be prepared to deal with the unexpected and time is of the essence, so being able to quickly communicate among people in the organization is crucial. An example offered by Mike Pagani features a staff member trying to get permission from a superior amidst the chaos of an emergency. Email might work, but in a situation where you need a response immediately, text messages are the faster option. That, combined with the fact that nearly everyone has a device inherently capable of sending and receiving them, makes text messages especially valuable in an emergency, which is why they’re among the most popular types of digital records created during a disaster.
Whether you’re using text messages, email, social media, or instant messaging, your organization will be generating huge reams of records throughout the emergency and those records need to be archived and reproducible. Not only will you be able to better review what exactly happened from a debrief standpoint, but you’ll also be able to use your records to generate documentation for FEMA and other groups that may take over disaster response. Comprehensive records will also help you more readily deal with litigation that may emerge following your disaster response — a possibility you can’t prevent but can prepare for. Finally, your records determine how much can be learned about disaster response during reviews. Being able to look back at what worked and didn’t work is perhaps the most valuable aspect of good recordkeeping and will help your community and organization to better prepare for future disasters.
Looking back to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Pagani and Grewe point out that communications outages were common and a lack of fuel and electrical power left computers inoperable. Even modern era stalwarts such as banks and mail service were interrupted for weeks. In the time since that disaster however, we’ve made great strides in shoring up these aspects and preparing each to survive future disasters, thanks largely to the communications data collected during Katrina.
For more on how to prepare your organization for post-emergency records requests, please watch the webinar in full.
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