How Businesses Can Leverage Texting During Natural Disasters

satellite image of a hurricane forming over Florida

When a storm is coming in or the ground starts shaking under your feet, you’re probably not going to be sitting at your desk checking emails. But you are likely to have your cell phone on you.

From AMBER alerts to severe weather reports, texting can help keep people informed and safe during emergency situations. It’s a fast, urgent and mobile method of communication that can reach many people at once. Texting is not a substitute for calling 911 during an emergency, but the technology provides a sturdy and far-reaching communication system when there’s a natural disaster or public safety issue.

Being accessible and responsive during a crisis helps keep people safe, which is why many scientists, credit unions and government agencies are leveraging text messaging and mobile alerts in their emergency communication strategies.

For a business, the ability to text can keep internal communication lines open with your employees, which can be used for things like safety check-ins, team organization and status updates in a crisis. Texting for Business can also be used to send out weather alerts or notifications of store closures to customers, and keep the conversation going if you can’t get to the office.

Emergency alerts for severe weather and public safety

Most Apple and Android phones allow emergency, government and public safety alerts by default. These are the blaring, mass-texts that you, and likely all those around you, will get at the same time.

These alerts breed urgency. While they’re not quite a text message, since authorities use a similar, but separate emergency alert technology that still involves carrier networks and cell towers, they are often mistaken as such since they are designed to mimic texting’s high-priority nature.

After all, if an emergency alert pops up on your phone, vibrating and blaring an alarm, you’ll check it. Especially if others around you are receiving the same message, thanks to provider geo-targeting and the use of cell phone towers.

Plus, all mobile phones can receive at least a basic text message or Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), so emergency services and government agencies can broadcast to massive groups of people in a crisis.

For example, an AMBER alert will get more eyeballs on it than a breaking news story on TV, simply because people are more likely to have their phones nearby compared to a television. That reach and urgency of an AMBER alert to mobile phones can increase law enforcement’s chances of finding the abducted or missing child.

The speed and urgency of these alerts not only help warn people of a storm, heat wave, blizzard or tornado predicted to hit their area, but it can give them time to prepare. In a hospital, the advance tornado warnings by mobile alert and siren can give staff crucial moments to enact their emergency protocols and keep patients safe.

Messaging and the race against earthquakes

The speed of a text and broadcast mobile alerts makes for an ideal medium for reaching large groups of people quickly. In the event of an earthquake, time is of the essence. Even a minute of advance notice can help keep people safe.

That speed and accessibility has caught the eye of scientists. This year, the US Geological Survey awarded over $12 million to improve systems of a mobile app, ShakeAlert, which will be able to send early earthquake warnings to people in Washington, Oregon and California.

To be effective, scientists are working to pair real-time GPS sensor readings of seismic activity (and a few algorithms) with the incredible speed of a mobile alert to reach the west coast moments before the earthquake. The hope is that those few moments will give people on the west coast time to take cover or move to a safer location.

Business texting during hurricanes

Mobile alerts are great for advance warning, but two-way texting can be especially beneficial in the middle of a disaster. The advantages of business texting hold true when they are used during an event like a hurricane, particularly when leveraging group messaging and customer support.

For one of our customers, having the ability to text ended up being incredibly valuable during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Chocolate Bayou Credit Union, based in Houston, was able to utilize their Texting for Business software to communicate both internally with employees and stay in touch with their members.

Usually during a hurricane or natural disaster, employees are warned against overusing their email, or making a bunch of calls, as these can quickly drain a cellphone’s battery when a nearby charge isn’t guaranteed. Texting, on the other hand, can be a more battery-friendly medium.

Gary Angeles, the credit union’s president and CEO, recounted how he was able to use his texting tool’s group messaging feature to easily fire off specific messages to two segmented groups: his employees and board members.

“During disasters, communication is key and setting up an employee group and board group made life much simpler during this event.”

—Gary Angeles, President and CEO of Chocolate Bayou Credit Union

The Chocolate Bayou Credit Union included an update on their official Facebook page, notifying members on their office closure and limited operational hours as the hurricane dissipated. Usually, they’d have to close shop for two to four days, but since no one knew what the full impact of Hurricane Harvey would be, they wanted to continue providing full service to members.

So, they made sure to mention that members could text or call the credit union’s landline with questions on existing loans or payment deferrals.

“And boy did they,” Angeles said. “The tool was simply an amazing way to communicate during a crisis!”

The option to text kept credit union members and employees connected and kept their momentum even when they were unable to get to the office. When it comes to sensitive and personally identifiable information, like finances, it’s important for customers to have the ability to securely communicate with a business over long distances after a disaster.

Texting for Business better equips companies to communicate internally with employees and externally with customers during times of confusion and stress. Two-way texting is conversational, which gives people the ability to ask questions and receive personalized responses well after an official emergency alert has blared on their phones.

Texting keeps communication channels open

If the office internet is down or weak due to high winds and storm conditions, texting may be more reliable for reaching employees or customers. Or, if weather conditions are expected to get worse around your building, a group text can notify employees that the office will be closed without them missing the time-sensitive message in an email or voicemail.

Texting helps keep lines of communication open when phone calls and emails aren’t effective. Consumers are more likely to read texts faster and respond within 30 minutes or less.

Texting for Business has the added benefit of keeping your employees and customers connected and informed during a disaster.

Whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise, a texting tool can fit into your strategy and help your team continue be high functioning in an emergency.

For more on how your business can leverage group texts and automated responses, check out our features page and see how a Texting for Business tool can help you stay accessible and responsive to customers.

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