Preparing for the Next Disaster

COVID-19 has taught us that disaster can strike at any time and on any scale. While crises come in many forms — from viral pandemics to natural disasters to chemical spills to cyberattacks — you can establish a baseline plan to implement during any disaster. 

Business continuity is your end goal, but you can only achieve business continuity by putting employee safety first. “While there is a balance of employee and business needs, the foundation in a crisis is employee safety,” says Amber Davis, PHR, a Human Capital Management (HCM) Solutions Engineering Manager at Oracle. “It’s not that we don’t care about the business, but keeping employees safe is what will ultimately enable the business to thrive.”

Here’s how to protect employee safety and prepare your organization to respond to the next crisis.

Establish a Crisis-Response Framework

No matter the impending disaster, you can follow a consistent process to prepare for its impact. “Having a framework for crisis gives you the means to analyze the situation and then develop courses of action,” says Jevon Cooper, SPHR, who spent several years planning for and responding to contingency scenarios in the Air Force. The three main components of your framework should be:

  • Monitor the event, even if it isn’t local (several large corporations use Dataminr for this purpose).
  • Tap into your business continuity plan, which should outline the essential roles and functions your organization must maintain through the crisis.
  • Analyze the specific situation and modify your course of action accordingly.

For example, if you operate in a state affected by hurricanes, you would monitor the projected storm’s forecast and remind your team of your crisis-response plan. As a storm approaches your area, you would alert local team members to evacuate and ensure that essential personnel have the tools they need to operate remotely from a safe location. Your plans should be reflexive and able to pivot as crises evolve. To facilitate this, Cooper suggests building relationships with local authorities now because they will be a valuable resource during times of crisis.

Test Your Reaction Time Through Practice

Relying on an untested plan could result in chaos during an actual crisis, so test your workforce’s preparedness by practicing each disaster response. Drills allow you to analyze and modify your course of action from a place of safety. “If you don't practice, you're not going to have that reactive muscle to be able to respond to a crisis,” Cooper says. 

For example, in the event of a wildfire, make a plan to phase employees out based on essential job functions in advance of the fire’s approach. Once you’ve made your plan, test it with drills. Running through each crisis-response plan helps you strengthen your reactive muscle and identify weaknesses in your projected course of action. Revisit and continue practicing your disaster plans regularly.

Put a Communication Plan in Place

Communication with your employees is vital during a crisis. Establish an infrastructure for keeping employees apprised of critical information that could impact business operations and personal well-being. “But with a host of new priorities and challenges to solve, HR professionals don’t have all the time in the world to continuously feed information,” Davis says. Post information in a central place and encourage employees to accept push notifications so they don’t miss critical updates. 

Transparency supports a level-headed response. If employees trust you to alert them with important information, they are less likely to react impulsively. “Having systems in place for broad communication, and targeted messages for impacted groups, helps to reduce employee anxiety and prevents misinformation from spreading,” Davis says. As your disaster plans evolve, keep employees apprised so they’re prepared for spontaneous drills to stress-test your processes.