Disaster preparedness – an opportunity for HR to shine

Do you know what to do in the event of an emergency at work?  I’m not talking about the vending machine running out of someone’s favorite snack or even that same someone cutting their finger.  Think about the tremendous disasters that have hit recently.  The tornadoes in the South and in Joplin, MO are stark reminders of the power of nature.  Are you in the know about the plans your organization has in place for business continuity?  If not, should you be?  I would emphatically say YES!

My own organization has been hit a few times with significant events.  The worst, on Christmas Eve 2009, was a fire that completely destroyed one of our facilities.  We were fortunate that the vast majority of our files were electronically saved and that we had great community partners ready to assist.  After the fire, we lost one day of services before having something up and running in a temporary facility.  A more permanent temporary home was secured within a month.

The burned out shell of the United Way Center in Columbus, IN

Even though so much of the focus was on finding a building, replacing the stuff we lost, and tending to the physical needs, the bigger challenge was ensuring that our staff (and even our clients!) were adapting to these forced changes.  During this immediate aftermath of the fire, we saw the raw emotions and natural range of reactions expected by people under stress.  There were occasions of sadness, grief, and anger that popped up in each of us.  We had counselors ready to help people acknowledge their feelings.  It was also beneficial, even healing, to be up and running in a “semi-normal” setting so quickly so that we could again draw upon and utilize the strengths of our amazing people.

This quick turnaround would not have been possible if we had not had contingency plans in place.  Our very active safety committee worked to identify the various resources that might be needed in the event of a disaster.  These plans were again used (albeit in a less severe manner) last week when a couple of residential sites we serve were damaged by a tornado that hit.  Thankfully, no one was hurt and our emergency drills paid off in real life.  One of our houses even had a state surveyor conducting an inspection at the time the storms hit and he passed us without issue after spending 45 minutes in a safe area with clients and staff!

So, if you do not know what you organization’s disaster preparedness plans are, ask.  We have them for fires, tornadoes, winter storms (gotta love the Midwest!), flu pandemic, earthquakes, workplace violence, and several others.  If your question is met by blank stares, a shoulder shrug, or something along the lines of “we don’t have one”, then you have found a great way to contribute something of value to your organization.  Although, hopefully it’s one thing that HR can contribute that will never be used.





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2 Responses to Disaster preparedness – an opportunity for HR to shine

  1. Dave Ryan says:

    You have made many great points in your post Brad. Lest we not forget the forgettable mid-western earthquakes too. Another often overlooked aspect of disaster preparedness is data – is it really backed-up – do you test and check your back ups? We hope we never have to use it but some of will.

    • Dave,

      Great point on the backups – yes, we’ve had to reinstate some things on occasion and have found problems. Now, things are mirrored as well as taken offsite.

      We participated in the Great Midwest Shakeout. I must say it’s hard to duplicate the fear that comes with the earth moving uncontrollably under your feet.