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The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way many organizations conduct their business. Remote work has become a necessity in the age of social distancing, while other groups have had to shut down entirely because of the guidelines put forth by federal and local governments. A main concern for many organizations that are looking to maintain their business continuity during this disaster is how they share important updates with their workers when they are not in their typical facilities.

Often the key to maintaining business continuity in the event of a crisis is developing a strong communication plan. Being able to tell people what expectations are for remote work, whether there are schedule changes, and when they can expect operations to return to normal can save time and reduce confusion. The quicker people understand what is expected of them, the quicker they can take action, meaning organizations that are able to reach everyone can resume work much sooner than those that need to waste time tracking people down to share information.

During this crisis, many organizations are utilizing a mass notification system to help share important updates that reach everyone. Mass notification systems are deployed across a wide range of industries including healthcare, K12 and higher education, manufacturing, enterprise businesses and government. These tools are used to keep people safe and informed by helping organizations improve the speed and reach of their emergency messages. They can help organizations lockdown a facility if there is a violent intruder, stop production if there is severe weather approaching, and evacuate a building in the event of a fire. Mass notification systems can also tie together different devices, so the same message get communicated with a push of a button. Organizations don’t need to waste time logging in and out of different tools because everything is united through a single system. The goal is to get information out quickly to keep everyone on the page about what is happening. This can mitigate disruptions and get operations back up and running as quickly as possible.

However, these examples are how mass notification is used under normal circumstances, when a majority of an organization’s people are within their facilities and can hear a message delivered through on-premises devices such as desk phones, IP speakers, digital signage, and flashing strobes. Intrusive audio and images help capture people’s attention to alert them that an emergency is taking place and they need to get to safety. Those alerting methods become useless once people are working remote, but mass notifications can still get people to stop what they are doing and notice new messages by pivoting to a mobile alerting strategy.

As people move to remote work, mobile devices will be the best way to deliver information that impacts work schedules and expectations. Business continuity is sometimes hindered by an inability to quickly resume work following a disruption. This can often be attributed to communications that do not reach everyone, which can slow down the time it takes for everyone to begin working again. With mass notification organizations can reach everyone with the same message at the same time. Mobile alerts can be delivered as SMS text messages, push notifications to a mobile app, emails and recorded phone messages. The more channels an organization leverages, the more likely it is that everyone sees the message in a timely manner. A multi-channel approach is also more effective than simply relying on company-wide emails. Emails are easy to ignore, and when it comes to messages that impact business continuity, organization leaders need to do whatever they can to ensure those messages are read quickly.

That’s why desktop notifications delivered by a mass notification system can be another effective method for reaching people with updates. Organizations that have sent workers home may have given them laptops or desktop computers to perform their duties while not in the office. Workers will be just as likely to be using their computers as they are to be checking their mobile device while they are remote. This provides a direct and immediate line of communication for organization leaders to reach their people. Desktop notifications can pop-up over other open applications, interrupting whatever the recipient is working on, and forcing them to pay attention to the new message. For organizations that have remote workers with business computers, this can the most effective way of reaching them during work hours.

Messages can include operational updates, as well as useful information to help workers get through this crisis. Messages can include links to resources like how to maintain productivity when working from home and tips about social distancing and hygienic habits like frequent hand washing that can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Notifications can also be scheduled to go out at the same time every day. This can get remote workers in the habit of checking their devices at a set time to receive a message. Receiving regular updates lets employees known managers are actively monitoring the situation and can help reduce feelings of isolation as workers remain at home.

Of course, communication is a two-way street. Organizations leaders will want to share information out, but they will also want to hear from their employees.  Desktop and mobile notification methods can offer organizations the ability to check in on their employees through confirmation responses. When a mass notification is distributed, the recipient can respond to simple question to provide organization leaders with valuable insights. This could simply ask the recipient if they had read the message, so administrators can know who they need to follow up with or can ask about how an employee is doing to let managers know if personal check-ups are needed to address employee wellness. These can be preventative measures to intervene before problems escalate that could impact business continuity. 

It can also help organizations identify a potential coronavirus outbreak. Having a large number of workers fall in, resulting in an inability to perform their duties, can have a greater impact on business continuity than simply shifting to remote work. Messages can be sent out with a list of common coronavirus symptoms to help workers identify if they are exhibiting signs of the disease. If a worker is experiencing symptoms, they can respond to the notification, alerting organizations leaders who can then look to alert others that work in close proximity to that person. This can help organizations anticipate potential needs if workers become ill.

Workplace communication tools are evolving, which means messages need to reach people where they are most likely to see it. Remote workers may rely on collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams to conduct regular activities and keep track of projects. Mass notification tools that can have those applications serve as endpoints to offer an additional channel where people are likely to see a message. Beyond serving as a place where recipients can view a message, collaboration tools can also be used for incident management following the distribution of a mass notification. The coronavirus outbreak will require ongoing management to mitigate negative impacts to business continuity. New developments and guidelines will require businesses to adapt and alert their workers about new expectations. Being able to quickly gather key stakeholders can save time and lead to more decisive action to share new plans with remote workers.

With certain systems, a similar functionality can automatically invite people to join a conference call. For smaller groups, or for those who prefer audio communications to written ones, this can be a productive way to take immediate action. It can also be less time consuming than traditional calling trees.

At some point, businesses will be able to reopen their facilities and have their workers return to their normal routines. Making the switch back to a regular work schedule can be just as disruptive as moving to remote work. How quickly workers adjust back to their daily procedures will have an impact on business continuity. Much like mass notification can be used to communicate changes brought on by the shift to remote work, it can also be used to bring workers back. Leveraging the methods already mentioned, workers can be quickly notified about when offices and plants plan to reopen. This gives them time to make the proper preparations and can ease the transition from remote work. This can help organizations recover faster from the impact the coronavirus has had on their business.

When business do reopen, those that have implemented a mass notification will have the added benefit of a tool that can help preserve business continuity during other crisis events. Organizations will have established an authoritative channel their people can turn to for accurate information and instructions. While mobile alerting options will still be useful, they can be combined and expanded with notifications to on-premises devices and well. The goal should be to utilize as many devices and delivery methods as possible to ensure no one misses a message. The sooner people receive a message, the quicker they can act, ultimately minimizing the impact on business continuity.






Paul Shain

Paul Shain is the president and CEO of Singlewire Software, developers of InformaCast, a mass notification solution.

Ask The Executive: An Interview with Derek Jenkins

Derek Jenkins ([email protected]) is responsible for security and emergency management at Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), ensuring the company meets all federal, state, and local government security and emergency management requirements. Jenkins earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology from the University of Virginia. He joined Newport News Shipbuilding in 1985, working with the nuclear engineering department. He is also a community leader and mentor to teenagers and young professionals, with service on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Virginia Peninsula, An Achievable Dream Academy, Y.H. Thomas Athletic Association, Newport News Police Foundation, and Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies.

Kirchner: For those of us not familiar with Huntington Ingalls Industries, please give us an overview of the organization.

Jenkins: We are America’s largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services to partners in government and industry. For more than a century, HII’s Newport News and Ingalls shipbuilding divisions in Virginia and Mississippi have built more ships in more ship classes than any other U.S. naval shipbuilder. We also have a technical solutions division which provides a wide range of professional services through its fleet support, mission-driven innovative solutions, nuclear and environmental, and oil and gas groups. HII is a global organization which employs more than 41,000 people operating both domestically and internationally.

Kirchner: What is your role with HII, and what is your primary goal?

Jenkins: As director of security and emergency management for HII, I’m responsible for ensuring the company meets all federal, state, and local government security and emergency management requirements. My primary role is to build a security team that is best-in-class across industry, trained, and dedicated to serving the entire company community as a full partner, consistent with HII’s mission, values, and principles. At a high level, my goal is for employees to come to work and feel safe each and every day.

Kirchner: In terms of achieving that safe workplace, what are some threats of which you want people to be aware?

Jenkins: Examples of the wide range of threats we prepare for are vehicle accidents, workplace violence, compromised access (someone getting into the facility who is not authorized), catastrophic failures (where mutual aid may be needed), travel issues, etc. Those issues are part of our day-to-day environment. Our HII security team has the subject matter expertise to evaluate the wide range of potential incidents, and that’s what we bring to the table every day. At the forefront of everything we do is “duty of care”—not only for employees but our assets, our facilities, and the HII brand.

Kirchner: Expand a bit on the concept of “duty of care.” What do you mean by that?

Jenkins: Duty of care, from a security and emergency management perspective, means we have measures in place to mitigate risk. We perform our due diligence so if something bad happens, we’ve got processes, procedures, and protocols in place to render aid and assist our employees. A few years ago, our president and CEO, Mike Petters, sent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” video out to all employees across HII. He did that because he wanted to increase awareness. That’s duty of care. We take it to another level in terms of security because we’re protecting classified information. We’re protecting the warfighter. We’re protecting the employee. We’re protecting the assets. We’re protecting facilities.

Kirchner: The local community doesn’t always hear about that because you are successful in what you do.

Jenkins: That’s the fortunate—and unfortunate—thing about our line of work. When we’re successful, we don’t broadcast it. When something does happen, people hear about it. Usually they don’t have all the information or all the facts. If something systemic were to occur within or around a facility, our company is charged with communicating with our employees. If a true threat is out there, we work with corporate communications and the necessary state and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure that information is disseminated appropriately.

Kirchner: What keeps you up at night regarding your area of responsibility?

Jenkins: As a company, HII has the resources, procedures, protocols, and processes to respond to a crisis. Initially there are always numerous anomalies and unknowns in an emergent event. Not knowing the status of an employee and not being able to access our resources or infrastructure (equipment, first responders, transportation, communication, etc.) to support our employees and community due to a host of variables inherent in responding to an event are things I think about.

Kirchner: Can you share an important lesson you learned from 9/11?

Jenkins: I realized that fear had become an infrastructure. In any state, city, community, or building, systems (infrastructure) such as water/waste distribution, power and electrical, transportation, and information systems enable a business to run properly. When one of those systems is disrupted, this can severely impact day-to-day operations. Shut off water in any building for an extended period, and work will stop. Imagine the cascading effect of fear on a grand scale. If you instill enough fear in people (employees), they will stay home, leave work, leave the area, cause congestion on roadways, and overload cell towers trying to connect with loved ones. Add to that the implications of compilation theory—one system (infrastructure) not being maintained cascades to another. This creates disruption to services which will not be provided, resulting in stoppage of operating systems.

Kirchner: What can employees do to support you and promote security?

Jenkins: When you recognize an employee and do a “wellness check” (make eye contact, say “hello,” and assess the response), you also acknowledge that employee. At the same time, you may realize “something’s not right.” I believe “duty of care” includes greeting everyone—not just the security personnel or someone in uniform, but everyone you pass. I think that’s huge. Making eye contact and saying “hello” is not only a wellness check, it is a validation we are “one HII.” In this business, we accumulate a wealth of knowledge through listening and observing. We must pay attention to each other.

Kirchner: You began your HII career 34 years ago, in Newport News Shipbuilding’s Nuclear Engineering Department, and have been promoted to positions of increasing responsibility during your career. Does it feel different now, working as an executive for “corporate?”

Jenkins: To be honest, I’ve missed the day-to-day tactical stuff, but now I’m influencing resources through relationships. This position requires more visionary and strategic thinking in terms of how we support all divisions of the company and create a transparent environment. We’re working very hard to increase our bench strength through direct support and teaming efforts. We’ve established a security council, and one of the goals we strive to achieve is a collaborative environment where we’re able to share resources across the enterprise in terms of expertise because all of us have a variety of competencies and skills others may, or may not, also have. We want to be as transparent as possible.

Kirchner: Mike Petters, whom you mentioned previously, says, “We want to disrupt ourselves before anyone else has the chance.” HII has a transformation strategy to capture efficiencies and synergies across the enterprise with specific focus on the material value stream, technology, and digital strategy. When you talk about collaboration within your division, it seems that a lot of what you’re doing is transformative. 

Jenkins: It is. That ongoing transformation effort empowers employees across the enterprise to work together to enhance their jobs and optimize results. For example, if we promote sharing of resources, that means we can do more with existing resources without having to expand the organization. Some of the ways to achieve that are through leveraging subject matter expertise, selecting the right technology, and choosing the right platform for implementation. That is transformative in terms of the way we think and how we work together, and it is critically important as we progress.

Kirchner: What dynamics do diversity and inclusion contribute to the corporate environment?

Jenkins: Inclusion in thought and collaboration is vitally important. We must constantly find new and different ways to be relevant in what we do for the company in terms of handling industrial security, crisis management, first responders, and classified contracts. To develop a superior industrial security/crisis management program, we must build the team based on what we want to bring to the table for HII. Our people come from all types of law enforcement and the military, and they include those with experience, those straight out of college, and those who learned on the job and grew their careers. We’re a compliance-driven organization, so we are constantly in communication with the regulators and federal agency partners with whom we work. That creates diversity and inclusion because you’re working with different people, different opinions, and different expertise in a variety of ways every day.

Kirchner: What did you learn from the experience of playing football in college that you apply to the work you do in security?

Jenkins: At the University of Virginia, we believed “if you practice well, you play well.” That’s a good sports analogy if you play a sport and a good music analogy if you play an instrument. It also holds true in corporate America, and that’s what we stress with the security team. We have a saying: “Prepared to act based upon sound planning, principles, training, and discipline.” We bring a disciplined approach to execution on game day. If you practice well, you’ll perform well. You’ll execute. That’s the train of thought we work to establish.

Kirchner: When you look back on your history with HII, which accomplishments stand out?

Jenkins: While I’ve grown as a person and professional, I’m most proud of the relationships I’ve built and maintained with co-workers and peers. Some of my dearest friends are here at HII and in the industry. I have the opportunity to connect with both new and old friends on a daily basis and believe relationships are what drive an organization like HII to success.

"Kirchner"132316"Theresa A. Kirchner, Ph.D., MBCP, MBCI ([email protected]) is an adjunct associate professor with Old Dominion University and a former senior vice president with Bank of America and principal consultant with Keane, Inc. She serves as a DRJ Editorial Advisory Board member and as president of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the Association of Continuity Professionals.


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