As the 2007 hurricane season starts today (June 1), it’s time for employers to review and update their disaster preparedness and response plans. And it’s time to review our updated checklist, originally prepared following our own and others’ experiences from the 2005 hurricane season, including Hurricane Katrina.
The time is right for all employers to establish plans if they don’t already have them and review existing plans to determine how they can be improved. When it comes to disaster preparedness, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
This week we’ll look at what you need to do before disaster strikes. Next week, we’ll examine what you need to do during and after a disaster.
Before the disaster
How do you get started? Take a look at the following tips:
- Put your crisis management plan in writing and give it to all employees. A limited distribution list may be proper for certain parts of the plan, such as the steps your IT department should follow to protect and operate technology systems during an evacuation, but all employees should be told what to do when a disaster strikes.
- When warning systems are in place for a potential disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, include a timeline in your plan for certain preparatory tasks to be completed and ensure that the person responsible for each task understands what must be completed and the deadline. Conduct drills regularly to prepare employees for the real thing.
- When you establish your timeline for workplace preparation and closure, consider that employees will need to prepare their families and take care of personal matters as well. Allow enough time for them to execute their personal preparedness plans.
- Communication following a disaster is critical. In advance, establish a communication plan that will work regardless of the nature of the disaster. For example, consider setting up a toll-free number or website, make sure they are operated out of areas that aren’t disaster-prone and are located away from your workplace, and give employees instructions on when, how, and what to communicate through those methods following a disaster.
- Identify critical employees, and make sure they understand what is expected of them during a disaster. For example, you may need certain employees responsible for IT functions to work during a disaster to protect and reestablish your technology systems. If you need those employees to work remotely, make travel, hotel, and meal arrangements in advance, and ensure they know what equipment and support they will need to perform their duties.
- Develop a plan to allow your payroll, benefits, and HR functions to operate during a disaster, after a disaster, or during any period in which access to your workplace is restricted.Establish a website that will be operable if your workplace sustains damage or is inaccessible, provide employees with remote-access capability from any computer, and post information about group health plans, retirement plans, employee assistance programs, and other services employees may need.Contact your employee assistance program provider in advance of a disaster or as soon as possible after a disaster to arrange for group sessions at work sites that employees can voluntarily attend.
- If employees will be required to return to the workplace to assist in the recovery process before all services are restored, obtain an adequate supply of water, nonperishable food, first-aid supplies, generators, cleaning supplies, batteries, flashlights, and other necessities.
- Update your employee contact information regularly and at the beginning of any season during which natural disasters are more likely. For those in hurricane-prone areas, that means now.
- Consult with your labor attorney regarding your pay practices during and following a disaster. Know which and how many employees will be working during any evacuation or recovery period, what they will be doing if different from regular activities, and what schedules they will be working. Attempt to schedule employees to allow them a reasonable opportunity to tend to personal affairs and to avoid burnout.
- If you have a large number of employees or multiple work sites, consider establishing a recovery team or a core group of employees responsible for specific work sites or specific tasks — for example, communicating important information to employees, gathering information from employees, making and monitoring travel, hotel, and meal arrangements for employees, and handling payroll, benefits, and similar issues.
- Arrange a meeting or conference with executives, department heads, and key managers in advance to review your plan and identify any areas that need adjustment or improvement.