The business community, as well as communities at large, is constantly being reminded of the vulnerable nature of our world and the extreme cost of these types of disasters. Certainly some are the result of Mother Nature’s work, but other events can be just as devastating, such as financial failures from poor business management, cybercrime, computer viruses, violence in the workplace, and union strikes. Is your business ready to handle these types of crises? Do your employees know what to do in the case of an emergency?
FEMA Director Craig Fugate spoke at the National Hurricane Conference in Atlanta last week and stressed how important it is for public officials, as well as communities to be prepared to fill in the gaps in support when a disaster occurs. His message is a call to action for business leaders to ensure that each organization is prepared, that employees are aware of and preparing for disasters in their homes - mirroring what they see being demonstrated at work - and that clients and customers know how to connect to ensure continuity with on-going orders and projects. So what is your business doing to answer this call?
Crisis Management Planning
No one wants to think like a terrorist or imagine the worst case weather disasters, but that’s what needs to happen in order to be prepared; we have to imagine what types of disasters could come our way. Developing a plan using the available resources and ideas of what others are doing is best approached as a team effort. Preparedness is important naturally for an organization’s human responsibilities, and also for the financial and economic impacts disaster can bring. Establishing and implementing a practical plan to address disasters can help minimize disruption, down time, and operational chaos.
The planning phase should be led by a credible senior leader, often the Human Resources Manager. The role of this leader is to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to systematically examine and plan for what is required based on the results of strategic and analytical discussions focused on:
- Considering the entire universe of things that can go wrong, i.e., terrorism, pandemics, epidemics, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.
- Analyzing each event and assigning a likelihood that it will actually happen
- Addressing those situations with the highest likelihood of occurring and considering both contingencies: your work sites are operational, and your work sites are closed or capacity is reduced
- Employees severely impacted by the disaster (loss of family members, homes, etc.)
- Employees impacted by the disaster (energy or transportation losses)
- Employees not directly impacted
The American Red Cross program for disaster preparedness works under the mantra Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be informed. It’s easy to remember and work with, and similar to the one utilized by the Department of Homeland Security. Working with the information available at websites such as the one provided by the Red Cross your Planning Team can gather helpful advice on how to integrate this information at work, as well as how to design and communicate tips to share with employees for preparing at home.
The Kit should contain at least the basic supplies, and someone should be identified as responsible for rotating the food and water items based on shelf-life.
The Plan should contain at least two places for employees to meet, one outside the building for sudden emergencies, and the other outside the immediate area should employees not be able to return to work in the case of an evacuation. In addition, create a Communications Plan so everyone knows who and how to contact (depending on what lines of communication are open) in the case of a disaster or evacuation. That emergency contact information, perhaps a toll free number, should be provided in writing and each employee should be requested to program the information into their mobile phones.
It’s important for the Business Continuity and Disaster Plan as well as the Communications Plan to be in writing but they also must be integrated into day-to-day business strategies. A roll out campaign with employees will be necessary initially to share the information. It should then be reviewed in on-boarding sessions with new hires, as well as periodically for updating. In addition, periodic practice sessions should be designed and conducted, just as you currently do with building fire drills.
There are a few things the HR Manager or Planning Team can do to implement the Be Informed step:
- Research what types of disasters or emergencies may occur in your area; what are other businesses planning for?
- Build relationships with local emergency preparedness officials and ensure you are staying up to date on information relative to health-related or terrorist events.
- Identify how local authorities will notify you during a disaster – radio, TV NOAA Weather Radio, etc. Identify someone responsible for making sure this equipment remains in working order.
- Know the difference between different weather alerts and educate your employees to be mindful of these distinctions, especially in parts of the country where conditions can change quickly.
- Educate employees who travel about possible disasters and emergencies that may occur in those locations and what to do in the event of such a disaster.
- When a disaster occurs, the workplace can change immediately. If there are injuries, emergency response is likely to be delayed. Make sure a representative number of employees are trained in first aid and CPR; and if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, that someone knows how to use it.
- Provide all employees and their families with Emergency Contact Cards, available through the Red Cross.
We are more vulnerable at work than we’ve ever been, making developing, implementing and sustaining a realistic Crisis Management Plan no longer a luxury. It needs to be a critical element of your strategic business plan, aligning with your HR, operations and financial strategies.
The Weather Channel recently reported the confirmation of 292 tornadoes as of April 19, 2011, beating the previous April record of 267 in 1974. According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK, the average for April is only 116. You may not live and work in a part of the country that is prone to tornadoes, but look at the devastation caused by the tornado in St. Louis last Friday - and they haven’t had a tornado this strong in 44 years. The time to plan is before disaster happens, not after.
I know raising awareness to possible risks and threats isn’t the best motivator for driving business leaders to take action. I’m hoping that by writing this blog on this important topic that we can start a dialogue of sharing ideas that will spark others into action. Regardless of what industry we work in, what part of the country our employees live in, or what size organization we support, a plan for what to do in the case of a disaster is good business sense for everyone. We need to keep employees as safe as we can while putting strategies in place to allow us to continue running the business and servicing our customers.
So my wish is that you’ll share a little something about what steps your organization is taking towards emergency planning, and what helpful things are you are doing to engage employees to be prepared for a disaster at work, as well as at home. Thank you for participating in this dialogue. I look forward to reading your comments.
Feel free to share this blog so we can expand the discussion, as well as information about available resources.