5 Ways to Improve Your Disaster Response
September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.
Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.
The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.
Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.
Benefit from Partnerships
During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.
We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.
With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.
Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.
Collect Essential Data
In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.
The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.
When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.
Offer Alternative Channels
Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.
With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.
Increase Your Bandwidth
An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.
If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.
iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.
Provide Critical Information and Referral
During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.
Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.
You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources
Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.
Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.
Tags: 211, AIRS, helpline challenges, Helpline software, Helplines, iCarol Features, information and referral, online emotional support, Public Resource Directory, Resource Management, Shift scheduling, SMS, Statistics, volunteer and staff management
Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties at a suicide prevention, crisis intervention, and empathetic listening helpline that also served as a 2-1-1 information and referral service. As the Communications and Social Media Manager at iCarol, you’ll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials that aid helplines in their work.
In her spare time, Dana enjoys birdwatching, gardening, animal caregiving, and spending time with her family.