Emergency Notification, Mass Communication & Crisis Management Blog

Using Call Trees for Emergency Notification: Protect Yourself by Setting Expectations

Posted by ERMS Corporation on Tue, Mar 09, 2010

For smaller organizations, Call Trees, sometimes called Phone Trees, can work. We're talking small organizations of say 100 or 200 people with 20 to 40 people to be contacted immediately for a role to play in an emergency, with the remaining staff to be contacted up to a few hours later.

But for larger organizations, or situations where you want to contact over a 100 people immediately, it's important to set expectations with senior management around Call Trees. I was talking to a Business Continuity Manager in a mid-sized company and we were discussing the use of their Call Tree. I asked the question, "What if it doesn't work well, what if there is a break in the tree?" I wanted to see if he was prepared for problems and what he had told senior management regarding Call Tree performance.

Murphy's Law

He hesitated, and then said it worked OK in the last test. When I pointed out that in a real emergency, key managers in an organization, are usually the ones at the front end of the Call Tree, and they're the ones moving around the office floor to talk to other managers in adjacent offices, they're not at their desks, and probably on their cell phones fielding the first calls coming in prior to the initiation of the Call Tree. So if they don't receive the phone call to execute their branch of the Call Tree because they are busy, or they become distracted, or have other immediate priorities -- then the entire Call Tree process gets delayed.

So I asked if the manager had set expectations with executive management that Call Tree performance in an Emergency will probably be significantly less than in a test. The answer was no -- so he's in a situation where executive management may be in for a surprise during a real emergency.

In the short term, he had no choice but to continue to use a Call Tree so we offered a checklist he could use to help mitigate the problems associated with Call Trees. The checklist provides a list of problem areas, and what the Call Tree initator should look for.

But in an emergency, what can go wrong might go wrong, so it's important to set realistic expectations on what a Call Tree process will and won't do. You really don't want company executives expecting you to execute robust, predictable Call Tree process they can depend upon in an emergency. There are just too many people factors involved in the chain, sometimes including executives.