Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

GBTA Risk Committee Blog Post – April 2021

Emergencies happen without warning, as the recent ice storm disaster in Texas reminded us. Does your company has plan in place to support staff when facing this type of crisis?

While most companies have an emergency disaster plan on site, these plans don’t typically address flexible or remote working. With the impact of the pandemic on potential increases in remote working viability, knowing how to support that growing remote workforce during a crisis is becoming an important aspect of emergency disaster planning.

The economic loss due to natural disaster in the US for 2020 was $95 Billion and the economic impact of the recent events in Texas are being estimated at $200 Billion or more.  You may be asking what does this mean for my company and what can we do to help our employees be safe and productive? Outlined below are four key areas of focus when initiating a plan to assist your company and employees.

Preparation: Traditionally, a typical safety plan would include details for office closure, securing property and information, keeping the lines of communication open, etc.  For the remote worker, while the same is true, plans should have flexibility and with an eye toward preparedness. If a natural disaster is being predicted, a company might begin allowing employees working in the office to start working from home days in advance. This allows an organization to focus on making sure employees are able to organize their office and home in advance so they are better prepared.  A reoccurring story heard from individuals impacted by the Texas storms was people simply didn’t believe it would be that bad. Why would they? The impact of these storms was unprecedented and past experiences were always less severe than the warnings suggested.  Whether the impact is more or less devastating than the warnings, organizations and individuals should always lean to the side of preparation.

Communication:  Advanced preparation includes communicating with your employees on emergency protocols for their workspace, whether at home, working remotely, or while traveling. Be sure to have questions prepared. Has the employee thought about what they will do if they do lose power? Do they have options for an alternative workplace if this happens? Do they have enough supplies to be home for a few days? Have they thought of what they will do if it is necessary to evacuate?  Asking your employees to think about these questions help identify the options available to help support them.  You may also share the Ready.Gov resource with employees to help identify what to have on hand in case of a disaster situation.  Make sure to keep in regular contact with employees throughout all steps of the process: before, during, and after and communicate a plan for daily safety checks.

An important step during any crisis is Empathy.  While we hear lots of stories of support from companies in handling of the impact of a disaster on employees, organizations needs to recognize and acknowledged a shift in expectations of their staff in times of disaster.  Power outages, damaged lines, evacuations can all impact an individual’s ability to be online & responsive to the demands of the job. When a company responds with flexibility and understanding, employees are able to focus on their immediate necessities and are able to return to work faster and with less stress, which is good for morale and employee retention.

In any disaster, the Recovery processes happen in waves.  Organizations should realize that returning to work may not be like turning on a switch.  Companies should be prepared to offer assistance and guidance at all step in the process, and to provide regular communication. Be sure to share company policies and guidelines and to remind staff of available resources regularly.  Does your company provide a list of approved temporary co-working spaces or Wi-Fi accessible businesses? Are there benefits the organization offers that might help an employee return to work faster?  Are security protocols in place to prevent malware when working remote?

When it comes to natural disasters, the old adage “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” may be the most effective way for your organization to plan for disaster.  Natural disasters can impact anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Having a plan in place will help give employees and companies the best chance at a quick and smooth recovery.