HR-- The Corporate Lifeguards

Ken Koch

Three long years. A lot can change for a business in three years. Staff turnover, policy changes, growth (hopefully) or RIFs (unfortunately); every business looks and performs differently than it did three years ago. Yet, it was that long since a hurricane has made landfall in the U.S. and we need to go back to 2005 with Wilma hitting Florida to talk about a major ‘cane. Today, with Hurricane Irene tracking to come up the east coast, we are seeing a potential impact for a category two or three hurricane to affect nearly 65 million people. That doesn’t even count the vacationers, business travelers and other people who need to interact with anyone who lives or works on the Atlantic shores.

Hurricanes, unlike tornados and earthquakes, afford us the opportunity to prepare for several days – if we remain situationally aware and don’t get too complacent when the track and strength show a miss for our area. Human Resources staff can be the corporate lifeguards and support both business and employee preparations before the storms hit and be a valuable resource the picking up the pieces. Take a moment and think about the HR policy or manual that addresses emergency situations. What should it contain?

Time Off

Employees need to know that they can take time off from normal work duties to help secure personal property and ensure the safety of their loved ones. Perhaps even making corporate discounts for local merchants available to the employees

Key Personnel

Employees should be made aware of work schedule changes for all non-essential and critical employees. Often it is more appropriate to close down the business with a skeleton crew on site versus try to run a partial shift with anxious employees who just want to be home and safe.

Secure Facilities

HR should work with the Facilities Management staff to ensure that all buildings, grounds and property is secured from high winds, flooding and will not pose a threat. You do not want your company sign to end up on the news because it blew through a building two miles away!

Employee Assistance

Preparing the employee assistance programs such as counseling, financial aid, and stress management should also be on the HR professional’s radar. Once the hurricane passes, staff need to be accounted for and preparations need to be made for returning to work and/or recovery operations.

Every year hurricanes form off the warm waters of the Caribbean and head westward. Sometimes they remain safely out to sea, but others track right through the U.S. mainland. We have witnessed the destruction of such named storms as Katrina and Ivan. In 2004, Charley and in 2005, Wilma came through Fort Myers, Florida defying the average of 3.09 years between hurricanes for that area. They tracked nearly identical paths and hit areas only about 30 miles apart at times. A major shopping mall sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars of structural damage in each of these hurricanes, yet not a single life was lost of injured due to their planning, preparedness, and execution of their plans. Because of this, business was able to return to normal within two days after the hurricane’s passing.

Human Resources staff are a critical link in the safety and well being of all employees. HR has the contacts, knowledge and training to remain prepared to react and respond when Irene, Jose, Katia, or Lee come calling. And hopefully, in three more years, HR and the business are prepared when Arthur, Bertha or Dolly decides to come visit.