What is a Crisis Phone Tree and Why You Need One

A phone tree is an excellent part of a sound crisis communication plan. Crisis phone trees are prudent resources that people in organization use to quickly notify others in the event of an emergency. Phone trees are also used as a means to get important communication messages out quickly. Phone trees are commonly used by emergency organizations, schools, and parents, but many types of organizations can benefit from implementing a phone tree.

A phone tree is essentially a group notification system, whereby a network of people is organized in such a manner that information can be easily and quickly spread among each other. It is called tree because the number of contacts are organized in branches, where each branch contains a person and the number of people who are to be called.

Because no single person is responsible for calling everyone in the tree, there’s no burden on one individual. Plus, setting the crisis communication phone plan up in a tree-like, pyramid fashion, enables people to distribute time-sensitive information quickly.

The decision as to who should be placed at the top of the phone tree shouldn’t be taken lightly. Because those at the top of the phone tree are pivotal to the success of the communication, it’s recommended to choose very reliable members of the group for these important roles to ensure the information is disseminated. Similarly, the people out on the branches should be accepting of taking on the role of this important task.

Ideally, each person on the crisis phone tree should have two phone numbers, which are typically a home land line telephone number and a mobile/cell phone number.

While the decision to implement a phone tree communication plan should be taken seriously, actually activating it shouldn’t be taken lightly either. Generally speaking, phone trees are best used for information that requires rapid action, or in crisis situations, such as a natural disaster. Sometimes, time-sensitive information, such as a change in the location or time of a scheduled event or cancellation of an event calls for the use of a phone tree.  That said, when developing your phone tree, it’s a good idea to define what constitutes an emergency in your organization that warrants the activation of the crisis phone tree.

Because branches of the phone tree can be broken (i.e. contacts leave the organization or no longer want to participate), it’s advised to test the phone tree at least once per year make sure it works effectively and to fix any broken connections.