Web Manager Playbook: Emergency Controls

iStock_000000413234MediumDo you have a playbook for emergencies? Every web manager should have policies and procedures for managing their site in an emergency. One key to success in crisis communications: set up your management controls ahead of time.  Baking these rules into your documentation and training helps you avoid snafus.  Over time I’ve collected several ever-green guidelines to help web managers be ready for the worst.


Establish roles and responsibilities for who will be responsible for posting content during emergencies, such as dangerous weather and threat conditions where you may have to work remotely. This requires getting off-duty contact information — such as personal email, phone or cell numbers –for approvals in your chain of command if remote email is not accessible.

Don’t forget to set up remote access to the system for content managers using secure passwords and user IDs for login. That way remote maintenance is possible from any place with access to the Internet.


Feeds, also called “really simple syndication” can be used on your news release or announcement page to help employees, the public and the media get real-time notice when you update information on these pages. If you don’t have the page coded in XML, use the Delicious hack to create an easy RSS page from regular HTML page or other Web language.

By using a micro-blogging resource such as Yammer.com you can also setup texting alerts for those sharing a common domain name email address. Determine who in the organization is authorized to send alert notices to employees or the public using this system.

If an urgent notice is necessary, you should coordinate through the office with primary responsibility for providing operational support for your system during duty hours. At other times route it through your after-hours emergency contact system. If you are large enough to need it, enlist a live help desk officer to be available 24-7-365 and have off-duty contact information used if necessary for support.


In the event that the website is offline due to a server malfunction or maintenance issue, make sure you follow outage notification rules . You should have a temporary outage notification home page available from your server that is automatically posted.

If you have vital applications that hosted on other servers are available to your users (either third-party or internal), I recommend a Quick Link area be prominently available from the outage notification home page. The links on the Quick Links section should have a review schedule to assure that the URLs are current and working.


Typically more than one person at the organization publishes to the web. The publishing model could be centralized, with a common editorial team getting information from subject matter experts or decentralized with authority pushed to the front-lines.

Whatever the publishing model, always eliminate redundancy and to make sure information on like topics is consistent and correct across the organization. To support this, the boss must encourage content providers to collaborate and have systems in place.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adopted a model process during Hurricane Katrina for this, shown below with slight changes. Using the language of the Information Superhighway, DHS called the knowledge owners with cross-functional information “Lane Managers” and required everyone to “stay in their lane”.

  • Business Unit Responsibility: Each business unit remains responsible for providing information that is in their own “lane.”
  • Appoint “Lane” Managers: A lane manager system revolves around subject matter experts coordinating information links across business lines. Since most organizations are not organized along the same topics that users will want to use to navigate to the information, you have to layer a topic structure on top of your organization to sort out the information in a way that makes sense to your visitors.
  • Use “Lane” Links: Rather than developing your own independent list of links to other enterprise resources, use model links established during a coordinated review by the enterprise level. This way, you won’t have to worry about broken links or maintaining the content yourself.
  • Consolidate Information: If you post emergency information specific to your own unit’s resources or have multiple resources, build a one-stop-shop page that consolidates links to those resources in one place. This is a great help to the user and to lane managers.
  • Communicate with Lane Managers: Be proactive about letting the Lane Manager’s know about available resources from your business unit. If you are not sure who to contact, select someone on the list who you think is the right person and they can pass the information on if you have guessed incorrectly.


Widgets and micro-blogging are great tools from the social media space and web managers in the know have set up elegant light-weight systems to put them to good use.

A great example of a widget in action is the Federal hurricane response widget page at DHS has content available in “how to get help”, find family and friends, health and safety and donate and volunteer, among other topics. As a widget, the information is cataloged and maintained in real-time and when stakeholder groups embed this widget into their sites, they get instant updates from all your experts.

For the inaugural, the DC Government tried to use twitter with a designated hash tag to spread information about the inaugural, and had over 300 followers and nearly 50 posts by the end of the event. But it was not clear that the command centers in the decentralized security team were fully aware of this tool or leveraging it to its fullest.

A selection of tweets from stranded ticket holders from a Huff Post expose the strained. At 10:15AM, for example, Cecilia Hanley tweeted, “DC better get someone with authority over to the purple ticket gate #inaug09” telegraphing an early warning about the security breakdown that left thousands shut out of the event.


So what emergency rules are you using in your organization?