I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Peter Haas, the CIO for Orleans Parish, at the 2011 National Association of Justice Information Systems conference in New Orleans. He gave a candid assessment of what took place in the aftermath of Katrina and provided some great lessons learned that are applicable to everyone. I was particularly impressed with some of the common sense advice and assessment in the area of communications. Here, in my opinion, are the big takeaways:
Satellite Phones – Great tool when all else fails. But, you have to know where they are, they have to work and the people who'll be using them can’t see them for the first time in the middle of the disaster.
Cell phones – Often they're worthless until infrastructure gets rebuilt. Don’t depend on this being your sole or primary communication device. Establish an 800 number for staff to call after they get settled. This has to be done ahead of time and known within the organization. When mass relocation happens, this approach can help to re-establish an organization and determine where and how people can be reached.
Text messaging – It’s relatively old technology but it often works when all else fails. Text messaging relies on a different network and takes very little bandwidth.
Email – Company or agency email is the first to go down and will take the longest to re-establish if it's based on a local system. Consider having a list of alternative emails for your staff that uses common providers (e.g. yahoo, gmail, etc.)
Webpostings – A company or agency website that's hosted offsite (important) can help provide informational updates, messaging and networking for employees trying to reconnect with their employer and coworkers. Although Internet service in the area of the disaster may be unavailable, many people relocate and it's likely Internet service will be available in their new area.
Media – If they’re present (and they usually are during a catastrophic event), use them to get the word out to your personnel.