Continuing from my previous two posts which looked at HR’s role in disaster recovery and business continuity in a wider sense, as well as at the planning stage of the process, today I want to take a look at the first emergency response to a situation and the crucial part that HR has to play in minimizing the effects of the disaster, securing the safety of employees and dealing with internal and external communications.
Although many of the more forward-looking businesses of today have their own disaster recovery teams in place, which often incorporate those in the building and risk management functions, in many cases the responsibility for accounting for staff and for identifying and dealing with injuries and fatalities falls to those in the HR department. In addition to identifying precisely who is responsible for contacting the emergency services in the event of a disaster, clearly the organization’s plans also need to ensure that they have procedures in place which enable them to tell quickly and easily who was in the building at the time of the event, as well as well-communicated and well-rehearsed evacuation procedures. Name boards which allow each member of staff to indicate their presence in the building are a cheap but effective way to keep track of employees’ movements, but workers need to be held accountable for using them properly at all times and so it can be useful to tie their use to a Health and Safety performance objective against which compliance can be measured.
In addition, of course, all members of staff should know precisely how to exit the building safely and where their designated meeting point is, and every team or department should have a primary member of staff and at least one back-up person who is responsible for collecting the attendance board and taking this with them if the building does have to be evacuated. With their complete and up-to-date staff records, which should obviously always be kept close to hand in case of an emergency situation, this should allow HR to quickly and easily identify whether everyone is accounted for.
Where injuries have been sustained as a result of the event, time is clearly of the essence. Although often the responsibility for ensuring that injured staff members receive the appropriate medical attention and accompanying them to hospital is delegated to individuals’ line managers, those in HR have a duty to communicate the company’s expectations and ensure that everyone is absolutely certain of their roles so that valuable time is not lost. In addition, they may have a crucial role to play in coordinating the efforts of trained First Aiders within the organization, as well as ensuring that first response teams are able to access the building without delay. Even if some of these responsibilities are not undertaken directly by HR, as the guardians of the workforce’s safety and well-being, it is essential that they make sure that all bases are covered.
Effective internal and external communication is absolutely vital in the immediate aftermath of a disaster situation and procedures need to be developed which allow HR to communicate to staff, for example, whether and when they are free to leave the area and return home, as well as what the organization expects them to do in the coming days and how everyone will stay in touch. In cases where staff have been injured or worse, typically it is HR who will also take responsibility for notifying family and loved ones and obviously this means a conscientious attitude towards maintaining up-to-date records of emergency contact details for every employee and ensuring that these are readily to hand should the worst happen.
Another area of communication which needs to be given serious consideration is that involving the media. News of disaster situations travels fast and it is vital that companies have clear processes for dealing with hungry reporters when they flock to the scene. As well as ensuring that specific individuals are designated to deal with press coverage, it is also essential that all other employees are made aware of what interaction they are permitted to have with the media. Workers who are shocked and perhaps even angry with their employers for ‘letting’ the disaster happen can have hugely detrimental effects on a business’ ability to recover in the aftermath, so always be sure to communicate what your organization expects of its staff in this regard.