Protecting Small Business in Emergencies

Scripps Howard News
– Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Dear Professor Bruce: I’ve got a small dress-store chain in Atlantic City, N.J., and we had to close all our locations during Hurricane Sandy last fall. The landlines were down at a time when we really needed to know that everyone was safe. What technologies can we use in an emergency situation to stay in touch with employees?
We’re so accustomed to always-on cellphone and landline service that it often takes a disaster to rouse us from our complacence.
Thankfully, there are fail-safe communications technologies within reach of every business. Both voice broadcasting and opt-in text messaging can be highly effective in notifying affected populations rapidly and affordably. The rub, of course, is putting systems in place before a calamity strikes.
While planning ahead is essential, doing so is neither complicated nor time-consuming. Any number of telephony service providers offer simple but powerful voice broadcast solutions. Relying only on an Internet connection and a phone line, a small business can record a voice message, upload a list of important phone numbers (customers, employees, partners, other stakeholders, etc.) and, when the time comes, instantly distribute that message to everyone on the list. Once the prep work is done, the system can be updated easily and used as needed.
Similarly, text messaging systems have the power to connect people and communities quickly and cost-effectively. Increasingly, Short Message Service, or SMS, has become a medium as important as the telephone — and, in certain situations, even more . Text messages contain vital early warning information and instructions that can save lives before a disaster occurs and help communities recover in the aftermath of an emergency.
But there’s a catch. Before lives can be saved, every cell phone user must first “opt in,” or provide his or her permission, in order for emergency warnings and other communications to be sent to their device.
That’s not a courtesy or a best practice — it’s the law. Both Federal Communications Commission regulations and the landmark federal Clery Act, which guides the communication of emergency information by academic institutions, require that businesses and organizations that offer SMS and voice broadcast mass notifications obtain an individual’s permission, as well as offer the opportunity to opt out of such communications.
“The right strategy for small businesses is to think ahead and act accordingly,” said Dinesh Ravishanker, CEO, CallFire, which sells telephone applications for businesses. The most encouraging thing about implementing any kind of emergency notification system is that doing so is simply smart business. These systems can be surprisingly easy and affordable, and what they save — in terms of business loss and human anguish — can be immeasurable.”
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