Disaster Plan: An HR Perspective on Hurricane Season

After a period of relative calm, 2018 brought a devastating reminder of the destructiveness of Mother Nature when Category 5 Hurricane Michael came ashore in the Florida Panhandle. It will take area residents and businesses years to recover, and it’s a reminder that having a plan ahead of time is your best defense. So with the 2019 storm season fast approaching, now is the time to get started with your disaster plan.

While you may be familiar with how to protect your home and family, doing the same for your business and employees is equally important. Yet many business owners are inadequately prepared for when a storm (or any disaster) hits and the aftermath that ensues. This can result in confusion, financial loss, and even the endangerment of those who work for you.

Thankfully, there’s a great deal you can do from a human resources perspective to safeguard your employees by planning for hurricanes and other emergencies. Separate from having a plan for your company’s technology, this aspect of preparations will focus on the “people” parts of your disaster plan.

There are several things you should ask yourself when creating your plan:

  • What is your back-up plan to keep the business up and running?
  • How do you get in touch with employees, and how can they reach you?
  • If the business is damaged and has a period of closure, do you have a secondary site so work can continue?
  • Will you pay employees who can’t (or won’t) work due to office closure or their inability to get to work?

The answers to these and other questions are the key to a well-thought-out disaster plan. Here are some areas to consider.

Establish the Decision Maker(s)

Who ultimately decides whether your office closes in the event of a storm? Would you rather this be one person or a committee representing multiple departments? Designate the person or people responsible for this decision; optionally, you can also specify criteria that would lead to closures (e.g., hurricane watch or warning levels, number of miles from the projected landfall site, etc.).

Crisis Communication

In the event of a disaster, you’ll need a way to communicate quickly and efficiently with employees. How will you tell them whether you’re closing, as well as who must report to work and when/where? Can you provide a way for employees to let you know about their status, availability and needs?

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Develop a way to communicate with employees in the event of a shutdown. Examples include group text messaging, email, or a phone tree with landline or cell phone numbers. Designate the person in charge of initiating this communication, and have a backup plan should internet or cell service be unavailable. (Side note: Make sure your employee contact records are accurate at all times, and update your communication plan for any changes.)
  • Establish a website or toll-free number your employees can use to get important information or updates on when you will reopen. Possible options include your company intranet, an internal phone number with a recorded message, or an emergency text alert.
  • Use your social media presence to keep in touch with employees.
  • Share your communication plan with your employees on an annual basis to ensure that everyone has updated information.

Have Sound Human Resources Polices in Place

Develop policies ahead of time that address pay and benefits in the event of a closure or an employee has damage to their personal property.

  • Decide whether your business will continue to pay employees if it is temporarily shut down.
  • Identify essential personnel that will be required to continue working.
  • Decide whether employees will be able (or required) to use their paid time off and under what circumstances the rule would apply.
  • Have a backup plan to run payroll if systems are down so your employees can still be paid. If this is not possible, consider other options (such as providing cash advances if needed).
  • Make sure you have back-up staff trained and ready to replace key personnel if they have personal damage or injuries and cannot work.
  • Decide whether and how employees can work from home if the business sustains damage.

Operations During the Storm

The safety of your people comes first! As a business owner, you are responsible for ensuring the well-being of everyone on your premises. If the authorities recommend that businesses close and people get off the road, do as they say. It’s not worth the risk.

That said, there may be situations in which your business is considered essential and you must stay on site. In that case, you need to supply the following:

  • Clear procedures for evacuation if necessary
  • A way to account for each person working
  • Emergency supplies in case you must stay on premises (with or without electricity)
  • Emergency care before professional help can arrive (do any employees have basic first aid skills, do you have someone certified in CPR, etc.)

After the Storm

Once you’ve confirmed that all of your employees are safe, you can assess the situation and, if you’ve sustained damage, begin recovery. Your disaster plan should include the following aspects:

  • If your business had to close, work with your operations personnel to ensure the safety of your location and determine when you can reopen.
  • Establish a way to communicate when employees are expected to return to work and/or where they should go (e.g., alternative work site, work from home). The crisis communication plan we talked about earlier can be used for this purpose as well.
  • Coordinate employee assistance for those who may have been impacted (e.g., emergency food, supplies, cash, transportation, etc.).

Hashing out your disaster plan involves decisions covering several aspects of human resources policy. In addition to checking out this hurricane playbook, you can work with your HR consultant to make these decisions wisely and in accordance with regulations. Most importantly, you’ll develop a plan that takes care of your business’ most important asset—its people.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a James Moore professional. James Moore will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.