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November 02, 2016 in HR

Disaster Planning How to Weather the Worst

There are any number of crises that can strike without warning and make doing “business as usual” nearly impossible. These include flu pandemics, hurricanes, snow storms, earthquakes, infrastructure breakdowns and terrorist attacks. Do you have an emergency operations plan in place to keep employees in action? If not, what are you waiting for?

Plan for a Rapid Recovery

The first place to start is to establish a cross-functional team and imagine all the possible worst-case scenarios for your company. Examining what might happen during an emergency allows you to best plan for how to respond and recover from it.

Consider your key personnel, equipment and information. Ask questions, including:

  • Who is critical to getting your business going again?
  • What is the succession plan if these leaders are unavailable?
  • What types of equipment will be needed to move forward?
  • Where will key information be stored and how can it be accessed?
  • Who are trusted vendors, outsource partners and service providers who may be able to pitch in and help in a disaster?

Once you’ve established the groundwork for recovery, create a contingency business plan that describes step-by-step how to move forward after an emergency. Be sure critical personnel know the plan and what is expected of them during a crisis. Most important, provide regular updates about emergency plans and procedures to your staff.

Develop a State of Readiness

Find out if any employees have emergency medical technician, CPR, first-aid or firefighting training, or hold a ham operator’s license. Ask those with other skills, such as organizational skills and ability to focus during chaos, to be part of an emergency first responder team. And develop a buddy system to help employees keep track of one another.

Buy and store emergency supplies — such as water, nonperishable food items, first-aid kits, cleaning supplies, generators, flashlights and batteries — in a central location and plan an escape route. Post signs and conduct drills to ensure your staff knows where the supplies are and how to safely leave the workplace. Rehearsal is critical to protect everyone’s health, and minimize time delays and damage to operations should the real thing occur.

Be Able To Account For Staff

Create and continually update a list of emergency contact numbers, including out-of-state contacts, so you know how to find employees during a disaster. Determine who will be the point-of-contact for your staff, stakeholders and the media. Establish a call order for contacting employees and decide whose job it is to do so. Consider asking key personnel to use different cell phone carriers in case cellular service is lost during an emergency.

You’ll also need a way for employees to find out about the status of your business following a crisis, such as where to report and where the crisis command center is located. Options include establishing a toll-free telephone number, setting up an emergency e-mail or text system, or creating a website or bulletin board hosted by a third party. Once you’ve decided how employees should keep in touch, be sure to communicate this often so they’ll know where to turn for information in a crisis.

Provide Emergency Resources

If employees have nowhere to stay or can’t get to work, you probably won’t be able to resume business (unless employees can work from home). Decide now what types of transportation and housing services you would offer if needed. Next, establish and maintain a relationship with these service providers so you’ll already be considered a client should you ever need to call on them.

After the initial crisis, your place of business may remain inaccessible due to damage. Consider what types of alternative arrangements — rented or shared temporary office space, telecommuting, job sharing, retraining and transfers to other locations — you might offer to get employees back to work even before your offices are up and running again.

Continue Pay and Benefits

Determine how you’d continue to provide pay and benefits in an emergency. Direct-deposit and pay cards are both good ways to distribute payroll during a business interruption. If neither is an option or if regular channels for payroll distribution become unavailable, you can use a money wire service.

Another element to consider is how long you’d continue paying employees if your organization couldn’t reopen for some time following a crisis. Establish guidelines for the length and amount of pay available in this event, as well as whether this pay would be tied to continued employment once the company was back in business.

Don’t forget about the possible effect an emergency could have on benefits and how you administer them. During disasters, many companies choose to cover all services as in-network, waive co-payments and continue disability benefits without physician statements until things return to normal. Also, consider making counseling services available, such as through an employee assistance program, to help employees adjust to the new circumstances.

Be Prepared So You Can Rest Easy

Once you have a solid emergency business plan in place, continually modify, evaluate and communicate it. The hope is that a catastrophe will never hit where you work. But if it does, preparation will help ensure you bounce back successfully.