For those of you that may have missed the headlines for the tri-state area in the last week- we have been pummeled by Hurricane Sandy and as of last night a Nor’easter. Though I was inconvenienced and pushed to my max in this past week- I was fortunate. I didn’t lose my house, wordly possessions and more importantly my life.
New Yorkers and people in general on the east coast are not accustomed to these sorts of natural disasters. A heavy downpour is the likes of what we know when it comes to natural disasters -but apparently this trend is changing. It is abundantly clear that we all need to wise up and prepare better, because we have been ill-equipped and not taking this stuff as seriously as we should and I am including myself in this.
Of course nothing that happens to me is devoid an HR lesson so here’s the story.
Things happened in this storm that we weren’t prepared for. Although we were forewarned, the attitude was either it won’t be that bad or it won’t happen at all. I lost internet, phone, power and more importantly- I lost heat. I had no generator so revving that up was not an option. This in turn caused me to charge my phone in my car. I went to stay with family also without power until the cold became unbearable and then off to a motel I went.
During this ordeal, there was no way to properly let anyone of importance know what my situation was. It was touch and go. In the interim, I became sick. How do I get that message out with all phones out of service?
The point I’m making is there was a plan, but the plan wasn’t good enough. There needs to be a team disaster plan for employees to follow in the case that they are in a situation such as mine. Conversely, empathy and common sense should prevail on the end of employers before these events to make plans among their teams so everyone is in the know. Here’s where I’m going with the common sense piece.
If your company closes down for an extended period of time due to a natural disaster and employees are unable to return to work because of this-how do you mandate them to work on non-traditional days of work (e.g. Saturday)? Answer: you don’t.Make them give up holidays instead. You can’t penalize an employee for an act of nature and your inability albeit out of your hands to make the business operational.
What does one of your employees do if they cannot make it into work due to a disaster and doesn’t have access to a working phone or computer? It isn’t business as usual. On a normal day, they would pick up the phone and call in if sick or otherwise. The day that a disaster hits-depending on the severity-is not normal. In fact, it is unlikely for it to be business as usual for a long time. Your expectations and directions have to become flexible; they have to change and that’s why you need a plan.
Have a plan. Make it simple. It doesn’t need to be verbose or terribly long. All you need to do is to come up with a reasonable way for your employees to report their status in the event that normal platforms of communication cease to exist.
Here are some examples of things you could implement:
1) Have an e-mail chain. In this instance my one saving grace was my cellphone. Consider having an e-mail chain where each team member has to contact another member of the team to let them know their status. The person at the end of the chain will report all statuses to the boss.
2) Assign emergency buddies. Have each team member team up with the closest employee to their residence in case of an emergency.
3) Make sure all of your employees have a current list of the entire teams contact information at all times.
4) In the case that everything is out including cell phones, speak with your emergency management or security groups to find out alternative ways to account for your team should you be faced with a natural disaster.
Natural disasters are not nice events. Everyone is concerned for their safety and the safety of their families. Make the ordeal a no-brainer. In this way, your employees will have guidance of how to react in these unfortunate circumstances.
Side note: My heart and prayers go out to my fellow tri-state people that lost lives, homes and all other worldly possessions. Be Strong!