Hurricane Harvey Highlights Need for Disaster Plan

Stay informed and ready to meet both everyday challenges and long-term planning and policy-making goals, with focused news, practical information, and strategic insights on all HR-related...

By Genevieve Douglas

Hurricane Harvey is a reminder to employers everywhere that they should evaluate their current risk management plans or create new ones, crisis management consultants tell Bloomberg BNA.

“Every company, every organization should already have some kind of business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place,” Vivian Marinelli, senior director of crisis management services at FEI Behavioral Health, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 28. The disaster recovery plan has to start with a risk assessment for every potential crisis that could occur, she said. For example, many companies in Houston likely had a hurricane or inclement weather plan in place for the last decade, but such plans need to be updated to reflect technological advances and current best practices, Marinelli said.

Companies at a loss for where to start the planning process should initially address three main issues, Chandra Seymour, senior vice president of the strategic risk consulting practice of Marsh Risk Consulting, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 28. This includes:

  •  setting up a damage assessment team that determines whether access to company facilities is possible and work can be done;
  •  determining which critical activities are needed to continue business, or if a company has the ability to shut down for a few days; and
  •  making sure all personnel are accounted for and safe, with plans in place for potential medical treatment, shelter, or relocations.
Overall, employers have to understand their workforce’s needs and priorities and make sure they are addressed if disaster strikes, whether it’s how to access payment, changing work hours, or taking time off, Seymour said.

Social Media Plays a Role

Employers also should consider the benefits of social media.

“Social media has really changed how communities respond to natural disasters,” Seymour said, whether it’s Twitter crowdsourcing rescue missions or Facebook pages reuniting pets with families. The platforms also help individuals who are at the epicenter of a hurricane or other natural disaster not feel isolated and give them access to needed resources, she added.

Employers can use social media applications for communication in times of crisis, Jim Satterfield, chief executive officer of crisis management firm Firestorm, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 29. For example, if a company is in the path of a hurricane, snowstorm, or other weather event, there is a high likelihood it will lose electricity and lose the ability to communicate directly with workers, but the cloud can provide an emergency notification plan using Facebook, he said.

Including a virtual meeting place in disaster plans makes it that much easier for employees to update the company on their status, Satterfield said. To make this work, HR should map where every employee lives. This kind of planning “pays such a disproportionate return on investment,” Satterfield said.

Telework technology is also making it safer for everyone because workers can get their jobs done from a safe distance, Seymour said.

Be ‘Your Own First Responder’

One of the most common failures of a disaster recovery plan is not training employees for events that happen at work and at home, Satterfield said. All of the employees in Hurricane Harvey’s path should have had a plan for their families and loved ones, he said, because “you are your own first responder.”

Employees need to be made aware of the company crisis management plan and what their own responsibilities are, Seymour said.

One important way to make this happen is to practice everything that’s involved in the disaster plan, Marinelli said. “Planning and preparedness is critical, but it’s equally important to actually practice that plan, making sure it works, and making sure employees know the plan,” she said.

These drills not only will identify gaps in planning, but they also will give employees a working knowledge of what to do in case disaster hits, she added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.