When Disaster Strikes: How HR Can Prepare Your Workforce for Crisis

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Marcela Castro

How does your organization rate when it comes to disaster preparedness? HR plays a key role in a scenario like the earthquake and evacuations that occurred in Japan this morning, March 11. How do human resources departments incorporate these initiatives into an organization’s policies?

Different actions can be taken from a preventive stand point:

  1. Train associates on how to act in case of emergency. They should be prepared to react not only in their workplace, but also at home. In countries that are more frequently affected by natural disaster, workers’ families should receive tips and recommendations for preparedness as well. This kind of training should especially be considered when your organization has relocated an associate and his/her family to a county with these characteristics or natural risks. Your organization should identify in advance which of its locations are exposed to this kind of natural threat.
  2. Develop crisis procedures to give precise guidelines about how to act in each case.
  3. Establish in advance communications channels in case of natural disasters like the Japan earthquake. Naming only one voice to communicate is a key point to avoid rumors, uncertainty and hysteria.
  4. Keep track of where your associates are travelling or planning to travel. In the unfortunate event that one of your associates encounters a natural disaster during business travel, we need to be prepared in advance to offer support and guidance. Sometimes, your organization may have to cancel business trips to keep its associates safe.
  5. On a permanent basis, provide employees with high-performance communications tool, especially when they are abroad. This will allow associates to quickly get in touch with the company and his/her relatives.

The aforementioned steps are a great way to protect your employees before a disaster has occurred. But when a natural disaster has already happened, HR may have to quickly shift their strategies to accommodate the new responsibilities it will have to assume for Disaster Recovery:

  1. Immediately implement the crisis procedures already in place.
  2. Give affected associates support not only emotional, but also resources to let them not to feel as if they are on their own or unprotected.
  3. Use company communications channel to keep associates and their families informed about the events that are happening globally.
  4. Be alert and show an honest interest in your employees’ welfare, acting with speed and consciousness as soon as the event happens.
  5. Allow leaders to get involved in the situation and be a part of the decision-making process.

After the event, it is a great opportunity for HR to reassess what worked and what parts of its crisis procedures were cumbersome or confusing to employees. After a natural disaster, the human resources department should take the time to do the following:

  1. Assess the efficacy of the procedures in place.
  2. Ask for feedback with regards to how the associates considered the company performance in this situation.
  3. Identify which were the weakest areas of the plan. Improve them and continue with the ones that really made a difference in the operation and the employees’ perception of your organization’s performance.
  4. Decide if special help could be provided to the affected zone from the Department of Community Affairs and invite your associates to cooperate.

Situations like natural disasters are a huge opportunity to take care of your main assets – your people. You can also use these opportunities to improve employee engagement levels, to reinforce team work, and to create an environment where your workforce feels protected and cared for.

Read more about HR and the disaster in Japan:

Aftershock: What Would Your Business do at 2:47 PM?