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Natural Disasters: Communication Keys for Senior Living

’Tis the season for a couple of phenomena that are nothing to be merry about. Hurricane season starts June 1 and runs to November 30, and a typical wildfire season begins mid-summer and runs through early autumn. Between the two, tens of millions of Americans are at risk every year, as well as substantial number of senior living communities.

In recent years we’ve seen hurricanes and wildfires pose a deadly threat to senior living communities and it’s sure to happen again. Clear, timely communication prior to and during the storm can bring a sense of calm amongst the chaos.

Change communication, or in this case, crisis communication, can be separated into two categories — proactive and reactive.

While communication in natural disasters is more reactive, both hurricanes and wildfires usually come with at least a couple of days’ warning to put communication plans in place. And before the eye of the storm is staring down your community, you should think about these communication essentials and have a plan ready to deploy.

  • What’s the best way to communicate updates? Website fly-ins, social media pages, emails, a telephone hotline with a recorded update? Depending on the community, you’ll likely want a combo with a primary channel for updates and support from others. In times of natural disasters, you don’t want to overcomplicate messaging and your various channels. Updates can be coming in at all hours of the day and night.
  • Do you have remote assistance for posting updates? A nonlocal source can be critical for posting updates given possible power outages at ground zero. Yes, cell phones are the most likely to retain service in a natural disaster and power outage, but we’ve seen it before with someone locally at a retirement community — there’s only so much you can do from a smartphone in terms of posting updates across channels and communicating key messaging.
  • Have appropriate timing and cadence for updates. In some cases, it’s beneficial to tell your audiences when the next update will come…so families and loved ones know what to expect and when. Is that once a day, four times a day, somewhere in the middle? It depends on the situation, but there’s a frequency pattern we’ve found successful based on level of concern.
  • What if you’re forced to evacuate your community? Whether the decision is mandatory from local authorities or you decide to evacuate because you’re located in a voluntary evacuation zone, it goes without saying that you want families to know their loved one is safe. Your operational plan should have a predetermined location for evacuation, and you should have a means of communicating when you’re leaving, how you’ll get there, and confirm that residents and staff are safe when they get there.

The benefits of a crisis communication plan that’s well planned and executed are greater than you might imagine.

We don’t know where or when the next natural disaster will strike, but we do know it’s more than likely that at least one will impact the country in the coming months. Having a logistics plan and a communication plan go hand in hand. And after all, having these plans aligns with the promise of Life Plan Communities and other senior living communities by offering peace of mind.

If you’re unsure about your communication plan if faced with a natural disaster, contact us, and we’re happy to discuss in further detail with you.

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