Friday, January 14, 2011

HR’s Role in Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

January is HR Month! It is also a good time to review all company policies and procedures from a proactive management standpoint. I think it's important to determine how prepared your organization and your employees are for natural or unnatural disasters such as what recently happened in Arizona. A few years ago many employers were hit hard by tornadoes here in Springfield and a shooting at our state's capitol and our mall all of which caused many organizations to more urgently considering disaster planning.

Just as an example, during the tornadoes in Springfield, some businesses were completely wiped out, some had major damage, and some went without power for several days. One thing they all had in common was what to do with employees who could not perform their regular jobs. Did companies have a plan to pay employees? Did they have a plan in place to assign tasks to be completed? Was there sufficient communication early enough for employees to know what to do, or did they receive instructions to not come in to work?

These Human Resources related issues should be included in your overall company strategy for disaster preparedness and recovery. When disaster strikes, HR and/or management personnel need to be prepared and have a plan in place. According to the previous Disaster Preparedness surveys by the SHRM Foundation, 15 percent of the companies who responded did not have a plan and many of those who did, had outdated plans. This varied by organization size. For example, small organizations of 100 or less who did not have a plan in place increased from the 15 percent average to 30 percent.

One small business owner I spoke with after the storm in Springfield had to completely relocate his business to a temporary location to just get by. His employees were working long hours to clean up the mess, and move the equipment and the office. He had to scramble for a location, with another business owner, just days after the storm hit. He moved twice in a few weeks to get by. Preplanning quite possibly could have averted some of the stress experienced by this business owner and his employees.
Know the who, what, when, where and how to keep your company viable. OSHA already requires staff training and to have documented Emergency Evacuation Plans, Exposure Control, and Hazardous Communication Plans in place.

Questions every employer should have answers to are: How do we communicate with employees? Do we have an emergency number for them to call? Perhaps a cell phone? Is there a phone tree set up for management to make calls to their employees and are these phone numbers kept off site? Should they be listening to a designated radio or TV station for information? Are payroll records backed up on a server off-site so we can pay employees if forced to relocate to another building? Personnel records should always be maintained in a locked, fire-safe cabinet that is structurally sound. How are we going to handle situations where the business is fine, but employees have been impacted dramatically by the disaster? The loss of homes, family members, power, transportation, etc., could affect employee attendance.

These are just a few topics to consider when determining how you might manage your human resources in a disaster situation. Are you ready - are your plans up-to-date? If not, you might want to consider drafting a plan or policy for the possibility of another disaster, and sooner rather than later. No one wants to experience conditions like those faced by employers all over the country without having a plan. Having a plan in place could make a big difference in how devastating another disaster might be.

A great site I recommend is www.ready.gov.

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