Were Calgary businesses prepared for the floods?

Calgary organizations' emergency response plans leave companies at risk: survey

Calgary organizations are at-risk with their emergency response plans (ERP) and are not fully prepared for natural disasters or emergencies, according to a new Ipsos Reid study. The research study included telephone interviews with almost one-third of Calgary-based organizations that have more than 100 employees and were directly impacted by the 2013 Southern Alberta floods in June, Canada’s largest natural disaster in history.

While 80% of Calgary organizations surveyed had an ERP in place prior to the 2013 floods, extensive gaps exist in the plans, instructions and protocols. Calgary-based RallyEngine, an app-based communications system, commissioned the independent study.

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“During the flood, the focus of company communications was on ensuring the well-being of staff and letting them know the operating status of the business. In most cases, however, the Emergency Response Plans did not include an emergency communication plan or protocol to support this objective,” said Tim Moro, senior vice-president with Ipsos Reid, in a press release.

“One of the most surprising findings of the study is the disconnect between what people say is important and what they show is important in their emergency response plans,” said Steve Hardy, director with RallyEngine. “Of the 81% of respondents who rated their ERP as effective, only 19% said they were able to reach employees or communicate well, and just 8% said that people clearly knew what to do.”

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Calgary’s June floods and State of Emergency significantly affected large downtown organizations–with 92% of respondents having their commute to work disrupted and 86% closing one or more premises. In addition, 90% of organizations surveyed had at least one of their employees evacuated from their home and 80% of organizations had at least one employee whose home had been flooded.

While almost all organizations were focused on alerting employees of their operating status (94%) and ensuring their employees were safe (94%) in the immediate hours and days following the flood, approximately only half of the plans included contact information. Only 20% of the organizations surveyed factored contact lists into their ERP.

“It is incredibly time-consuming to try to source this information in a crunch,” said Hardy. “What the study revealed is that leaders of some of these large organizations either didn’t have up-to-date company-wide directories, couldn’t access their directory physically or virtually, or weren’t able to reach the people responsible for such important lists. As a result, many relied on telephone tag and some resorted to opening public blogs or using their company’s Facebook Page for internal matters. Communications were more manual and ad hoc than they ought to have been.”

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Approximately four in ten organizations updated their ERPs following the floods, but very few included vital information such as contact lists, roles and responsibilities, or steps for business continuity.

Another key finding of the survey highlighted a deficiency of business continuity planning. While it was deemed to be important, few plans actually addressed the procedures required for keeping business operations and employee access going during an emergency or disaster. Only 10-20% of ERPs included specific instructions or protocols for events likes severe weather, medical emergencies or bomb threats. Approximately 10% of respondents had plans to maintain business continuity or follow up procedures.

The lack of communication systems and limited access to organizational databases hindered the speed and efficiency of several companies’ communication efforts.

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Email and manual calling were the primary methods of communication used during the flood (92% and 84%, respectively) and both modes were generally considered to be effective by the organizations surveyed.

Hardy adds, “There was also a noticeable use of social media channels. And approximately half of organizations said they’re likely to integrate mobile notifications within the next two years, especially as smartphones become even more widely adopted.” The large majority of respondents (92%) indicated that they use a smartphone for work purposes.

Given the lessons learned through the 2013 Southern Alberta floods, the challenge will be for Calgary organizations to identify their risks and gaps, and make steps toward improved, more resilient internal crisis communications in their Emergency Response Plans.

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Transcontinental Media G.P.