If a disaster struck right now, ask yourself, “How would my staff respond? How would my business hold up?”
There has been no shortage of disaster headlines in the last few years, whether they are of the natural variety like California’s devastating wildfires, the inescapable floods from hurricane Harvey that submerged Houston Texas, or the lethal tornadoes that touched down in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. There’s been mounting disasters related to mental health like the rise in active shooters, terrorist attacks and the opioid epidemic. As a business, being able to contend with such a broad array of crises is understandably challenging since you never know what may occur. The best approach that will stand you and your company in good stead is to be proactive, prepare, consult your HR leadership and train ahead of time.
Recognize that your procedures will need to vary depending on the disaster. Quite obviously, you’ll need to respond differently to a fire than you would an earthquake, hurricane or gunman. Is your staff aware of what to do in those cases?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that Emergency Action Plans be drafted for all possible emergency scenarios and their potential consequences. Each plan should include written procedures and resources that are accessible and have been reviewed by everyone in your company. Emergency action plans should cover but are not limited to, evacuation procedures in the event of a fire or earthquake, sheltering protocols for hurricanes and blizzards and lockdown strategies protecting against terrorist attacks and active shooters.
Plans should also include strategies for IT back-up, medical emergency planning and succession planning. Additionally, during the emergency plan drafting process, you’ll likely find other potential business pitfalls along the way that should be addressed as soon as possible, leaving nothing to be figured out in the midst of a crisis.
As Always, Communication is Key
Aside from safely avoiding physical danger, your company will need to rely on a well-functioning HR department to address vital steps in post-crisis communication with your entire staff, prospects, clients and vendors. Consider the likelihood that you’ll need to get in touch with emergency responders, staff in other office locations, staff that are off-the-clock, concerned family members and maybe even the media. Therefore, identify the appropriate members of your organization to disseminate emergency information or function as an on-call point of contact. Communication is a key concept when managing a crisis and should occur at an early stage with frequent updates throughout in a clear, concise and honest manner.
Back to Business
Once you have accounted for your people and they have survived the emergency without serious injury, the next most important aspect of crisis management is the continuity of your business. Do you have coverage for any position in your company that is adversely affected by the emergency? For example, if your company’s CFO is hospitalized with an injury, who then manages the company’s finances while they’re recovering? Another critical consideration is that if your office is damaged and you don’t have remote working capabilities, depending on your size and location, your company may or may not be required to compensate employees during a shutdown. Do you know what the requirement for your size and location is? If you aren’t sure of your answers, then HR is the right place to start to develop workflow contingencies.
Even if your workforce was lucky enough to avoid taking short- or long-term disability or file a workers’ compensation claim, they may still be overwhelmed with the number of catchup tasks and hours required to get the business back on its feet. Be prepared to work through these challenges, accommodations and requests before it’s too late. It may even be necessary to contract temporary employees to help you right the ship.
This is merely a glimpse into some general obstacles you may have to overcome in a crisis. Remember that you need to understand your company and industry-specific needs to formulate a plan and targeted training regimen that adequately protects your people and your business.
Be sure to check out our recent webinar on this very topic for a more comprehensive review of the best practices to employ before, during and after a crisis.