The 2007 hurricane season started June 1, and experts at the National Weather Service’s Hurricane Center predict it’s going to be a busy year. Last week, we examined what employers need to do before disaster strikes. This week, we’ll look at what you need to do during and after a disaster strikes.
Even if you don’t live or have business operations in a hurricane-prone area, many parts of the country are vulnerable to natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires. So all employers need to be prepared for crisis.
During the disaster
Now that you have a plan in place, what do you do if a disaster hits?
- Hopefully, a thoughtful plan and preparation for the disaster will allow for seamless execution. It’s important, however, to focus on staying calm and following your plan. Avoid giving in to a sense of panic, which will only make matters worse and cause you to deviate from your plan.
- Keep a record of everything from expenses to contact information to a timeline of your activities. That will be important for insurance and disaster-relief assistance, which may be necessary during critical times for the company (and your employees’ jobs) to make it through financial difficulty.
- Put the health and safety of your personnel — and yourself — above all else. Don’t adhere to a plan if the circumstances make it unsafe in light of the nature of the specific disaster you’re facing.
After the disaster
Once the disaster has passed, follow these tips to get your employees and the company back up and running:
- Let us repeat — communication following a disaster is critical. Designate one or more employees as soon as possible to be responsible for receiving calls, e-mails, and messages from employees and collecting information concerning their whereabouts and plans and to communicate important information and updates about the business to them.
- Keep the company’s leadership visible, and stay firmly in charge. Let employees know who is in charge of particular aspects of the company’s recovery and how they can be reached. Any disaster can throw you a curve ball, something you didn’t consider when developing your plan.Don’t panic or react rashly. Consider all your options, and think them through carefully. You can show compassion and sympathy for employees, but also let them know that the company’s leadership has a plan and will execute it so everyone can get back to their lives and to the business of the company.
- Give employees the tools and time they need to tend to their personal affairs after a disaster. The sooner they get their personal lives in order, the sooner they can get back to business as usual. That doesn’t mean you have to forget about your workplace policies and procedures, but consider how you can help them recover professionally and personally as quickly as possible.For example, consider setting aside a private office with a phone and Internet access so employees can take care of personal business, such as dealing with insurance claims and mortgage holders, during breaks. Consider scheduling meetings for employees with consultants, employee assistance program providers, bank and insurance representatives, aid organizations, and other people they will need to help sort out their personal affairs. That will go a long way in fostering employee morale and loyalty as well.
- Organize community relief or other charitable efforts, and allow employees to participate. That not only will take some of the focus off their personal challenges and offer a rewarding experience but also will help build confidence in the reestablishment of their community or in the recovery efforts of others around them.
- Arrange a meeting with one or more groups of employees, from the highest- ranking executives to the most entry-level employees, following any disaster to review your plan. Identify its successes and failures, and work together to build a better plan for the future. Take advantage of your experiences by learning from them.