- 34% of employers didn't have an emergency preparedness plan before the pandemic, a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management reported.
- Businesses should be ready for any emergency that comes their way if they want to retain top talent and keep everyone productive and well taken care of.
- A crisis management plan should include what types of risks are out there and the level of impact they could have on business, who's responsible for handling what during a crisis, and how the organization plans to communicate with staff.
- The pandemic has also encouraged businesses to consider whether they address work-from-home policies and mental and physical health in their plans.
- This is the first article in a series called Risk and Resilience, which is focused on identifying some of the growing risks that companies should be aware of to help them build more resilient companies in the coming year.
For natural disasters, Riley said, include procedures for evacuation, closing and boarding up facilities, moving equipment, and turning off electricity, as well as how employers will communicate with employees and how employees will be paid.
Emergency plans also need work-from-home and health policies
COVID-19 has made businesses realize they need health-related provisions. More than half of organizations with emergency plans didn't have one that covered communicable diseases pre-pandemic, according to SHRM.
Riley suggested adding policies for screening employees and visitors, handling instances of illness, communicating with employees and others, informing employees of leave policies and resources, and outlining how work will be performed during the emergency and how employees will return to work safely.
The pandemic also underscored the need for emergency preparedness to include detailed work-from-home plans. "Many organizations and their employees have developed deep expertise in remote work, including modern digital communication capabilities such as conferencing," von Koch said.
Above all, the safety and physical and emotional well-being of employees should be a top concern. "What we have learned from the current pandemic is that we also need to create plans that address the emotional and social effects of losing loved ones through death and separation," von Koch said. "Plans of the future need to take into consideration the people side of the emergencies, not just the logistics of moving resources."
Emergency plans need regular re-evaluation
Emergency preparedness plans are not a "one-shot deal," von Koch said. They need continual evaluation and revision. New employees need to be trained on the process, and existing ones need refreshers.
To keep emergency plans relevant, Riley suggested designating one person responsible for reviewing and revising the plan as needed, and forming a "cross-functional" crisis management team with members representing human resources, facilities, operations, and leadership.
Run regular organization-wide drills and training to test the plan, making sure everyone responds well to real-life situations, von Koch said. If you ever put the emergency plan into action, conduct an after-action review (AAR) once the emergency has been resolved. "The AAR evaluates what worked well, what didn't, and what was missed," she said. "The plan, policies, or procedures are then revised accordingly."
Companies must plan for the unexpected to thrive in the future
Everyone gets busy, and too often company leaders consider emergency or crisis planning a low priority, Riley said. But, the pandemic illustrated that the unthinkable can happen at any time.
"The current pandemic should be causing every single organization globally to update their plans to include lessons learned from the current crisis," von Koch said.
At a time when many businesses are struggling because of COVID-19, a company's survival depends on planning and being prepared for every emergency. Minimizing risk and ensuring employees' wellbeing is vital for long-term success.
"Given the current pandemic, the wildfires raging across the west, the social unrest we're experiencing [and other crises], companies can no longer assume that they face little risk of a crisis impacting their organization," Riley said.
Businesses have undoubtedly learned many hard lessons this year, but maybe the biggest is the need to be prepared for anything at any time, even something as unprecedented as a pandemic.
According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in April, 34% of employers didn't have an emergency preparedness plan before the pandemic, and 53% of companies with a plan are revising them because of the coronavirus.
That doesn't surprise Kurt von Koch, CEO of FM: Systems, a workplace facility management software company. "So often organizations are hyper-focused on running the day-to-day pieces of their business like growing sales, retaining clients, or solving problems and are not able to take a step back and discuss what they would do if a flood, hurricane, or other existential threat were to impact their company," he said.
Organizations have mostly always planned for smaller-scale, local disaster response, but von Koch said they need to use what they've learned from the pandemic to prepare for emergencies on a broader scope.
A comprehensive crisis management plan removes ambiguity and ensures employees remain productive, taken care of, and able to manage any negative implications of the emergency, said Tina Riley, associate director and associate professor at the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University. It's also important for recruitment and retention as employees consider whether their workplace feels safe and supports their well-being.
Most employers have the legal responsibility to provide a safe, healthy workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) General Duty Clause. Riley said these regulations, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, should be factored into all emergency plans to prevent discrimination.
"The importance of these plans are first and foremost the health and safety of people, but it also helps to improve the chances of business continuity and increased business resilience," von Koch said. OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have several online resources to help you get started on or revise your emergency plan. All plans should include the following provisions, according to von Koch and Riley:
Risk-type categories: List all types of possible emergencies (fires, active shooters, pandemics, cyberattacks, and other crises), how they'll affect employees and the business, and the likelihood and potential magnitude of the event. A risk-assessment matrix can help organizations prioritize risk. Team roles and responsibilities: Designate who's responsible for emergency preparedness and outlining who has authority to execute the plan during an emergency. Information accessibility and communications: Describe the systems, policies, and procedures for updating employees in case internal communication systems are disrupted. The policy should also include alternative communication methods and details about storing information and data externally in a secure location with quick access.