HR’s Role in Natural Disasters

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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.