When natural disasters or emergencies arise, federal agencies must be able to respond effectively to public inquiry, and technology is key.
Few government services are as critical as crisis communications, especially in the moments during and after severe weather systems, natural disasters and other catastrophic events that affect the masses.
In those moments, people turn to the government for important, accurate information on which their lives or well-being may depend. To meet their missions and the moment in times of crisis, federal agencies ought to do more “than simply broadcasting messages from the office of a political leader,” a report released this week by Deloitte indicates. According to one of the report’s authors, effective dissemination of information to the public requires a mix of messaging, technology and strategy.
“When disaster strikes, people depend on government agencies to provide clear information and timely access to life-saving services,” Marc Mancher, a principal at Deloitte Consulting, told Nextgov. “Effective crisis contact centers that deploy the right mix of technology and well-informed phone representatives can deliver critical resources, mitigate harmful impacts, save lives and get the right information to the right people at the right time.”
The report posits six pillars for successful crisis contact centers. First among them: establishing a command center. The command center acts as the “centralized, coordinated authority to oversee all aspects of the contact center, from shaping the central messaging to capturing up-to-the-minute data about contact volumes, wait times and services delivered.”
A crisis communications team is also of critical importance. These are the people who shape communications that are shared with the public and internal agency personnel.
The report’s third pillar is agent deployment. This includes shifting resources to bring on personnel, and can involve working with outside staffing agencies.
Fourth, the report recommends investing in training and knowledge management.
“In the dynamic reality of a crisis, just-in-time training and access to knowledge management tools are critical,” the report states.
The report indicates that even with increased staffing and training, services based in technology and conversational artificial intelligence tools serve as an important fifth pillar. In large-scale crises, the demand may simply be too high for human resources to meet.
“Conversational artificial intelligence is a rapidly improving technology that has the potential to serve the public at scale and reduce the load on an overwhelmed staff,” the report states.
Finally, the report points out the criticality of an agency’s technology backbone. An agency’s IT infrastructure, for example, may serve citizens well during normal operations, but can it hold up during surges or peak usage?
“Consider the surge in unemployment insurance new claims, which jumped from fewer than 1 million in February of 2020 to more than 17 million in April of 2020,” the report states. “If your telephony platform can handle only 5,000 incoming calls, and you are experiencing 50,000, you’ll need to expand the service lines.”