Disaster Response And Recovery From A Human Resource Perspective

One of the most important responsibilities of human resources (HR) is to prepare for a disaster, including streamlining safety initiatives, communicating with employees and headlining crisis management efforts. Beyond this, organisations also have a duty to protect their workers’ safety while on the job. Work Health Safety legislation places onus on businesses to provide an environment free from hazards that can cause death or physical harm.

As an involved member of a crisis management team, the HR manager/department responsibilities at the planning/preparation stage include:

  • assisting in the development of a crisis management team
  • development of a robust strategy that preserves HR records, such as personnel files, payroll, rosters, sales records and so on
  • development of a communication strategy that identifies the various means of communication with employees, customers and critical business partners
  • keeping a list of 24-hour emergency numbers for all employees (especially critical for casual staff who could easily seek employment with a competitor) and develop a call tree to keep employees informed
  • involvement in business risk management planning
  • assisting with risk assessments and strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis
  • development of a contingency recovery plan with the crisis management team – this is a current document outlining the organisation’s chain of command, worst-case scenarios and so on
  • ensuring there is a clear link between the plan and the organisation’s mission and core values
  • consideration on what to do if the ability to deploy and locate staff is lost or, if staff are unable to temporarily relocate (such as control room) or work remotely (for example, locksmiths)
  • consideration of the ramifications for disruption to the supply chain and of engaging more than one supplier for staff uniform, equipment and storage of HR records

Planning considerations should address:

  • How will this event affect people?
  • Are there adequate workers compensation provisions?
  • Is the organisation able to stop or lessen the crisis in any way?
  • Does the organisation have the resources to react in a meaningful or effective way?
  • What happens if HR is not involved in planning and reacting?

Once a plan has been developed and approved by the senior management team (or the board) it should be rolled out. Roll-out can include distribution to those who have a role to plan in responding (some employees and most supervisors). Roll out should also include training on how and when to activate the plan and who are the initial contacts and who should be informed of the crisis.

On an ongoing basis, the plan should:

  • be updated and tested regularly; one of the roles of that person or department responsible for the plan is to ensure it is updated (phone numbers, new and leaving staff contact details)
  • be tested through regular crisis management team meetings and either field exercises (such as evaluations) or table-top exercises
  • update relationships with assistance providers such as the local fire and police departments, utility companies, community assistance organisations and government agencies

In the response phase, it is HR’s role to act as part of the crisis management team and ensure that the team and the organisation has the will and ability to implement the plan effectively. This should include:

  • assisting the senior management team to preserve the business or organisation’s reputation – this immediate and direct action can include management of stakeholders, continued deployment of guards and staff, and ensuring that customer appointments are being kept
  • ensuring staff and customers are evacuated to safe locations and their welfare and basic needs are being managed; further, that movement of staff is managed and that HR knows who is on duty, where they are and who has been sent
  • ensuring payroll records are maintained
  • ensuring all HR records are protected by being backed up, preferably in the cloud through a reputable service provider – most payroll software will automatically backup payroll and personnel data, such as annual leave balances and so on

As part of the recovery phase, HR should:

  • participate in recovery and focus on the safety, welfare and health of all employees and identify post-emergency assistance including, where appropriate, employee psychological recovery and debriefing
  • assist the organisation to return to business as usual as quickly as possible
  • analyse current plans after disasters or emergencies to reveal possible emergency prevention opportunities

HR professionals, including those in the security industry, play an integral role in the survival of an organisation. They provide invaluable sustainability tools, can successfully protect employees and can ensure that business continuity occurs in a timely fashion.

Greg Byrne
Greg Byrne is CEO and director of Multisec Consultancy Pty Ltd, a multi-faceted consultancy advising CEOs and boards of security organisations in Australia on best approaches to manage business risk, particularly operations, disaster recovery, business continuity and human resources.