In nearly all cases of emergency planning, employers and business leaders claim their people are their most valuable asset. However, disaster preparedness and business continuity planning routinely fail to address individual employee preparedness. Therefore, an organization’s most important asset is at risk of not being operational at the time of disaster.
Employees are the key to successful disaster preparedness and response. From assessing your risk to backing up data to conducting tests to responding post-disaster, everyone plays a role. Without employees who know what to do when disaster strikes, your ability to conduct business as usual could be severely impaired.
Employees’ personal preparedness is equally as important. If employees don’t have personal preparedness plans, they may not be ready or willing to return to work after a disaster, regardless of whether the organization is operational or not.
The following steps will help keep you, and your employees prepared.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
One of the first steps in employee preparedness is to account for everyone. Establish a policy that requires all employees to report to a physical, audio or digital location during or following a disaster. Design a hierarchy that determines who needs to report to duty when, and how employees should notify the organization of their whereabouts and safety status. Provide options such as an alternative location along with a central number they can call or text to if your existing location is declared not safe or not in working order. Consider using an internet-based communication portal where department managers and employees have access to current information and can make inquiries, and alternative communications, such as a personal account. Also, provide multi-device communication alerts (e.g. telephone, mobile phone, email, SMS) to staff when conditions are changing or new information becomes available. Also, establish a phone tree.
ENSURE THAT EMPLOYEES KNOW THE PLAN
Communication is the key to keeping employees informed about your disaster recovery plan. For disasters that are somewhat predictable, such as seasonal weather patterns, inform employees of the status of the weather regularly. Let everyone know when/how often you will keep them up to date and tell them where to turn for critical information.
REVIEW THE PLAN WITH EMPLOYEES AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR
Conduct disaster drills (also called “exercises” or “tests”) with employees and run through how particular situations should be handled. Know the most likely threats and how one would affect the organization vs. another, such as the difference between a lack of electricity and flooding in the basement. Review and prioritize several evacuation routes from the building and to likely shelter locations.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PRACTICING THE PLAN
Drilling is a phased process. It starts with a group discussion of what the plan should include. Once the plan is fleshed out, the team walks through it again while sitting around a table. During this process, every possible situation is considered, from loss of electricity to road blocks to reduced available staff.
PREPARE FOR WORK PRODUCTIVITY CHALLENGES
Plan for your employees being distracted with personal issues following a disaster. Do what you can to help them overcome those distractions. From onsite childcare to providing shuttles to get people to work, there are many things you can do to ease the transition after a disaster, and ensure employees are focused and able to make it to work.
KEEPING CRITICAL FUNCTIONS UP AND RUNNING
Critical functions must continue. What critical functions in your organization need to remain operating without interruption, or need to resume operations as quickly as possible? Remember that your employees, no matter how loyal, will want to be paid on time despite the severity of the situation, so payroll is key. If the banking system is down in your area or you’re unable to access your payroll system, find an alternate way to pay your employees, even if it requires cash.
You also will need to provide basics such as clean water, functioning plumbing, electricity, heat or air conditioning and perhaps even food. If none of these things are available in your current location, consider a fully operational mobile unit or temporary relocation to a nearby facility.
ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES TO PREPARE A FAMILY OR PERSONAL EMERGENCY PLAN
During and after a disaster situation, your number-one priority is ensuring that your employees are safe. As you work to develop your organization’s emergency preparedness plan, encourage your employees to create one for their family, and provide any assistance they might need to do so.