HR’s Role in Natural Disasters

fire grass spring

Is HR’s disaster planning a disaster?

Whenever we see a natural disaster in the news, such as ice storms on the east coast of Canada, the forest fires of Fort McMurry or the earthquakes in Italy, we immediately think of the disaster victims. This is a natural human response. Then we think about the rescue workers; but we never think about an HR department.

HR has to turn its head around and start to think proactively about disaster planning and crisis management. There is always a potential natural disaster that may affect your company or your employees. How would your HR department respond? What do you have in place to address a natural disaster in your workplace?

Most companies have emergency plans for fire and evacuation, but not about how to run a business during a natural disaster. A disaster plan answers questions like the following

  • What are your expectations of your employees?
  • What resources do you have in place to support your organization to continue to operate?

All organizations should have a complete risk assessment to identify which are the potential natural disaster which may occur in their geographical area, but what is also needed is a business impact analysis.

Click here to read more on what it means to do a business impact analysis.

A business impact analysis helps the organization plan to manage business interruptions due to a natural disaster. HR departments have to:

  • Ensure staff are accounted for
  • Ensure available staff are deployed where necessary
  • Updating employees on emergency status
  • Handling disruptions in employee wages
  • Creating and sending communication to existing employees
  • Documentation of wages of non-routine work
  • Assisting in developing temporary locations of the workplace
  • Temporary or new schedules

Obliviously, the above is nowhere near a complete or exhaustive list but it does the job to get you to think about the complexities of a natural disaster on HR operations. Maybe it is time for HR departments to take Gary Anderson’s words to heart and realize, “HR is critical to an effective emergency response plan.”

HR departments must ensure they take a proactive leadership role in disaster planning and risk mitigation.

Discussion Question

  1. Pick a recent natural disaster. Imagine that your organization is a business in that geographical area. Develop a business impact analysis for your HR department that you would be presenting to your VP of HR as part of the emergency management plan debrief.

The Hazard Is Real

Symbol of radioactivity and radiation on dark grunge background

Imagine finding a little blue box in your mail sent to you from your local nuclear power generating station. In that box is a package of pills that you need to take in the event of a nuclear disaster. This is where the imagining ends and reality begins. This is not a scene from a movie or a novel.  This is an actual emergency measure implemented and impacting several communities in Ontario.

In the fall of 2015 residents living in the area of the Pickering and Darlington Nuclear Power generating stations received packages of KI (potassium iodide) pills that they could take in the case of a nuclear accident at either generating station.

As a result of this mail-out questions and concerns were raised focusing on the level of emergency preparedness within the Toronto area in the case of a nuclear disaster.

The results were not comforting as cited in a follow up article published by The Toronto Star.

Click here to read the article.

Without creating histrionic or hysterical responses to potential disasters, how can employers take emergency planning seriously, if the potential base for that disaster does not have its own emergency plans in place and up to date?

The benefit of emergency planning comes as a result of learning from the past and planning for a different outcome in the future. In this case the future consequences are not unpredictable nor are they too far away.

It seems that there is much more work that needs to be done and that a little box of pills may not be enough.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were an employer in the area of a nuclear power generating station, what types of plans would you implement to safeguard your employees?
  2. As a Human Resources professional working in the field of nuclear power, what programs will you need to put into place to protect both employer and employee interests?
  3. As a member of the local community, what types of emergency information would you want to receive from a nuclear power generating station?