It was early September 2001. ACI Specialty Benefits wasn’t much more than a small office space with several scattered desks, a couple computers, and a small, intimate team of ambitious visionaries. Every team member was an integral part of managing and delivering the EAP benefit, and as first among equals, CEO Dr. Ann Clark stood on the front lines and led the charge. Little did they know how much their lives were about to change.
When the first plane hit, Ann immediately assembled the team. Knowing that there were ACI clients, families and friends in the towers elevated the situation, and everyone knew they had to act quickly. Back then, the best thing you could do was pick up the old telephone and make a call. You couldn’t go on Twitter and get the latest up-to-the-second news, email was still fairly rudimentary, and there weren’t any Smartphones around anyways to constantly monitor it.
This was the crisis response model at the time. Find out what’s happening on the TV or radio and pick up the phone and start calling.
My have we come a long way.
Since that first major incident, ACI has supported clients through earthquakes, tsunami, wildfires, tornadoes, shootings, severe weather, hurricanes, blackouts and numerous other disaster and crisis situations. The process for dealing with these situations has evolved into two main segments: emergency preparedness and crisis response.
The most important thing anyone can do for a disaster is to be prepared for when it happens. Now this isn’t just grabbing a cheap first-aid kid and stashing away a couple bottles of water and cans of food – it’s much more than that. To address this need, ACI put together a comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Packet fit with a checklist for essential necessities, an emergency hotline cheat sheet, and developed specifically tailored trainings to educate the workforce, managers and supervisors on how to implement these processes effectively in case of an emergency.
With the workforce educated on how to react in case of an emergency, ACI then formed an internal protocol to ensure a quick, comprehensive response to all ACI clients and provide them with any support, counseling or assistance that ACI was able to offer. This protocol fuses the early intimate approach first used on the phones of the old ACI office with the speed, reach and accessibility of social media. Account Managers immediately get on the line with their contacts in the affected areas ensuring safety and addressing any needs the clients may have, and an announcement immediately goes out over Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and e-blast. The use of social media through crisis response has been a valuable tool, and through the San Diego blackouts in 2011, has even been the only way to communicate to clients.
When the power went out that September afternoon in 2011, the world seemed to stop for most San Diegans. It was the first night of the NFL regular season, yet 99% of San Diego County didn’t have power, let alone cable. Internet was gone, television and radio were gone, and even phone signals were rather bleak. To make matters worse, Dr. Ann Clark was in the elevator when the power went out and was stuck in there for over two hours before finally being freed. This created a bit of a disaster situation for everyone involved, and for ACI there seemed to be no real way of letting clients know what was going on without power, internet or landlines.
And then there was Twitter.
After developing a robust profile and following, the Twitter feed was added to ACI’s homepage so clients could be kept up to date with the latest happenings. From here, ACI was able to make an update informing clients of the situation and seamlessly work through the outage until it was restored the following morning.
Furthermore, in the event of any natural disaster, crisis or emergency – it happens first on Twitter. While television, radio and print work hard to be up-to-the-minute, the up-to-the-second world of social media far surpasses them in terms of timeliness. In fact, many reporters and anchors find out their information first through social media before even putting together their own story. Long story short – if you’re not on social media yet, get with it.
Beyond the social media, ACI has also developed an extensive list of collateral and resources to support any form of crisis situation. The Crisis Response Packet created by ACI contains resources for how to talk to kids about tough situations, assisting employees in coping with stressful and emotional instances, emergency hotlines, web resources and numerous other crisis response materials.
While the early crisis response process bares little resemblance to the new protocol, it’s important that the personal touch is not lost. The bottom line is crisis and disaster situations are very serious, and there are many lives at stake. Lives of family, friends and people we love, and at the end of the day, it’s about keeping those lives safe.
For any questions regarding crisis response or emergency preparedness, or if you’d like to reach out to ACI Specialty Benefits, please call (800) 932-0034 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.