Monday 29 October 2012

Emergency preparedness for web teams

By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron Peterson. [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsShould web publishing staff be actively involved in emergency preparedness training?  
I’m not talking about social media – I think it’s becoming more mainstream to include SM in emergency response, and therefore in training exercises. Just think of Twitter Gritter, or look at the way BTP tweets to let people know when there’s a ‘one-under’. In this blog I’m thinking of the day-job web officer who may be uploading the press releases (you’re lucky if your press officer can do it themselves), and is certainly publishing the supporting pages - FAQs (*shudder*), detailed professional guidance and pithy public advice. 
Of course a lot of this depends on your organisational structure; this is another argument for close integration between the press office, social media and the corporate website. But too often the web team are still seen as the dumb, mechanical tool of the organisation – no more responsive than a typewriter being used to bash out the latest media statement.
While it’s important that the web team shouldn’t hold things up in an emergency by querying every misplaced comma, they do have a significant and enduring contribution to make. They’re not just there to provide something for your tweets and Facebook pages to link to, or to generate a ‘further information’ URL to add to your Notes to Editors.

The supporting pages that your web team publish are the ones that are going to be pored over, not just during the crisis, but in future when people look back to see how you handled the situation. It’s not much good if you can’t find them through Google or your own site search, if they break when you look at them on a Mac or mobile, or if it’s hard to navigate to them logically through your IA. A naff little homepage ‘quick link’ can’t stay there forever, and won’t help with future SEO.

Your web team must be able to stay calm in a crisis and have the tools to do their job. This means: 

  • They need to understand the organisation’s processes for responding to a major incident (What’s the target response time for this? Who needs to sign off before a page is published? Who should be told if someone spots an error or ambiguity? Who needs to be sent a link as soon as the page is live?).
  • They also need to have experience of working under pressure, so that they can anticipate their own fallibility (Does this need a second pair of eyes?) and perceive errors in judgement in others who are stressed (Do you really want to move that web page now? You do realise it will break the link that you’ve just sent out in a press release?).

So next time you’re planning a major incident exercise, think about your back-office webbies as well as your PR team.