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How to Create an Emergency Communication Plan for Your Senior Living Community

Emergencies. Nobody likes them. That doesn’t stop them from happening. So, it’s up to you to prepare for them accordingly. One way to do that? Create an emergency communication plan.

An emergency communication plan is a document that details the various messages and procedures for dealing with an unexpected occurrence that requires swift action.

Executed effectively, this plan also gives every member of your community the peace of mind that comes with knowing their (or their loved ones’) health and safety are always top of mind. Here are four steps that help you accomplish that goal.

1. Identify and Document Potential Emergencies

The first thing any good detective does in a true crime show – after being notified of a tragedy – is establish a timeline of events. They clarify “the what” (the crime) before diving into “the why” (suspects, motives, etc.). Though your community hopefully doesn’t resemble the backdrop of an HBO crime drama, there is a lesson here: the best way to prepare for an emergency is by first identifying what qualifies as an emergency.

Is one of the TVs in your lobby not turning on? Inconvenient, but probably not too serious. Are all of the TVs in your community not turning on? Now we’re broaching “emergency” territory.

Beyond gauging the severity of a certain issue (one TV vs. every TV malfunctioning), you’ll also want to categorize potential emergencies. Different crises often call for different communication strategies – e.g., the protocol for an incoming tornado should be different than the protocol for burst pipes. With that categorizing in mind, here are three types of emergencies you may encounter:

  1. Medical. Maybe it’s a flu outbreak. Maybe it’s food poisoning. Whatever the situation, the health of your staff and residents hinge on prompt and clear communication.
  2. Facility. This category encompasses everything from onsite power outages to burst pipes to broken windows.
  3. Climate. Think about the location of your community. Are you in a state that gets a lot of snow? Draft a plan that addresses low temperatures and icy conditions.

Though the messages for each emergency on this list may vary, your job remains the same: diagnose the issue to effectively keep residents in the loop.

2. Adopt Any Necessary Communication Tools

You’ve now defined any emergencies that could impact your community. Now it’s time to adopt the right tools for transmitting information about those incidents. What makes a tool “right” for emergency communications?

While it depends on your community’s relationship with senior living technology (wifi speeds, existing platforms, staff and resident comfort with existing tech, etc.), there are several features to prioritize:

  • Interoperability. Does a new piece of senior living technology function alongside your existing tech stack? How about other devices? Interoperability unifies the technical capabilities and data in your community. The latter is particularly important as it allows you to analyze prior emergencies and, potentially, use data to spot them before they come up (e.g., you see that before the last flu outbreak, resident activity attendance was at a record low – a possible sign.).
  • Multi-channel messaging. In the event of an emergency, you want to make sure every member of your community (staff, residents, and family) sees your alert(s). With the right piece of senior living technology, you can send the same message across all available channels (text, phone call, email, etc.).
  • Audience segmentation. The emergency messages you send to families and to residents are often different. Family members probably don’t need you to notify them of heavy snowfall, for instance. When you can filter audiences in your communication platform, that means you can share information with the people who most need it.

Adoption is more than just choosing the right technology – it’s also about learning how to effectively use it.

After you find your senior living technology partner, it’s time to get staff up to speed. Make sure your teams know how to both view and send emergency communications. Hold a technology training seminar. You could even make this a recurring event to stay up to date on product enhancements.

3. Develop Your Emergency Message Templates

Now that you’ve identified your emergencies and adopted the right senior living technology, it’s time for you to craft emergency communication templates. Why should you preemptively draft emergency messages and templates?

Simple answer: in an emergency, your residents and staff need fast, clear communication. That’s almost impossible if you’re coming up with a plan on the fly. Pre-drafting elements of an emergency message…

  1. Gives you the time to come up with the most effective course of action – without any looming dangers or worries hanging over your head.
  2. Lets you send messages to residents once you become aware of an emergency.

When you draft these templates, consider your different audiences and what questions each may have.

For instance, residents will want to know about their immediate safety and what they can expect in the coming minutes, hours, and even days. Operators and executive teams will likely want to know the cause of the emergency, whether there’s been damage to the property, and about the wellbeing of those in the community.

To summarize, the best emergency communication messages tell every member of your community, from staff to residents to families, what they need to know or do in the short term – and that you’re both monitoring the situation and keeping everyone safe. (And, if you want out-of-the-box templates with your communications solution, check out our newsletter to hear about an upcoming feature we’re releasing!)

4. Educate Community Members on Your Emergency Communication Protocols

Once you’ve crafted your emergency message templates, it’s important to share them with everyone in your community – before any emergency.

There’s a reason, depending on where you live, a tornado siren goes off at the beginning of every month. It tests the effectiveness of an emergency broadcasting system. Your communication plan should accomplish a similar goal: ensure everyone knows about an emergency and what they need to do to stay safe.

But for an emergency communication plan to succeed, your community needs to understand how it works in execution. Try testing it. Notify residents, staff, and loved ones that you’ll be piloting your new emergency communications plan and when they can expect to see these “test” alerts.

You can even send a feedback survey polling community members on the effectiveness of your message(s). Was the text large enough to read? Was it easy to understand? Those types of questions – and their answers – help you finetune your emergency communications plan.

Senior Living Technology Is a Vital Component of Any Communication Plan

In the digital age, word practically travels at warp speed. Use that to your advantage. Sure, sometimes paper signage and printouts make sense – especially if your residents aren’t tech-fluent yet. But family members, staff, and a growing number of older adults expect you to use modern tools to improve the quality of life in your community.Emergencies don’t wait for anyone. If you’re interested in learning more about how senior living technology can prepare you for your next emergency, shoot us a message. We’re here to help.

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