What HR must do in a natural disaster

Here’s how to help employees prepare for the worst, and to recover after

What HR must do in a natural disaster
Natural disasters are realities that employees – and their employers – must contend with. Recent experiences of typhoons/ hurricanes and earthquakes remind us that nobody is insulated from these occurrences.

Human resources professionals thus need to stay on top of their organisation’s emergency plans, keep workers updated with crucial information and support, and ensure that the business keeps running.

Robin Schooling, vice president for human resources with Hollywood Casino in Louisiana, shared a conversation on the HR Open Source Facebook group where over 4,200 HR and recruiting professionals explore ideas in dealing with natural disasters. She published her article at the Fast Company website right around the time the United States was reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey and anticipating the devastation to be brought by Hurricane Irma.

Here are some tips she gathered from her colleagues:
  1. Share your plans and emergency resources early. HR leaders are responsible for sharing information and establishing communication plans so that individual employees can prepare early, as well. The list should include websites for weather updates and checklists for emergency kits maps and directories.
  2. Make sure you can contact employees and vice versa. Update their contact information in the company system so that they can be easily reached. Make sure, too, that the employees know how to reach the office and key persons.
  3. Plan for no-cell service. Storms can knock down cell phone towers and internet capabilities may bog down. Ensure employees have extended batteries and wireless cards, and have access to support from offices not affected by the disaster.
  4. Extend deadlines, alert vendors, and pre-schedule remote check-ins. Just because there has been a disaster in one part of the country does not mean all of business would stop.   Operations continue, and there are deadlines that must be met. Inform vendors and other stakeholders that some employees may have been affected by the disaster and may not deliver on schedule. Arrange for extensions or backup.
Schedule calls and meetings beforehand and take the time to know if employees come to the office, or work from home or anywhere else.  Business continuity is a priority after ensuring the safety and well-being of all.
  1. Cash is king -- consider an advance payroll. More than ever, employees will be concerned about access to funds in the aftermath of disaster. Make sure their pay is available when they need it most. Franny Oxford, VP for HR for a manufacturing firm in Houston, Texas said “That first paycheck after a storm is critical for employees.”
First Direct Lending, which has an office in Miami, Florida, did a special payroll run so that automatic deposits of payroll checks occurred three days earlier.  Employees were able to take out cash before Irma arrived earlier this week.
  1. Be flexible with attendance and other policies.  Those displaced from their homes would naturally be concerned about job security even as they struggle with survival and access to food, shelter and clothing. Assure them that the organization has flexible policies as they get back on their feet.
  2. Distribute supplies from the office. Employees may need access to supplies and the office should ensure that they have access to mops, mold cleaner, buckets, gloves, masks, flashlights, batteries, battery operated fans, ice, and water.

    Also be mindful of employees who care for the elderly or young children in the house. Diapers and formula should also be on hand especially as these may be scarce in stores.

  3. Provide long-term support. Ensure that team members and their families have access to the Employee Assistance Program for ongoing support. They must be free to talk about stress, grief, or loss of any kind.

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