Credit: Jennifer Smits/FEMA
It’s remarkable that the Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Industry still thinks recovery is about technology. Well, of course the recovery of technology is imperative. But why is it that organizations say their most important assets are people, yet they don’t help their employees prepare for disasters? When asked if employees will come to work after a regional disaster, too often the response is “They better, it’s their job.” would you really go to work if your family was in jeopardy? No. So in this author’s work with companies across the US, we frequently conduct “lunch and learns” as part of the BCP engagement. What follows are some of the key issues we address to help employees be prepared.
Spouses/Significant Other: If an employee is defined as critical to recovery by the BIA, then the spouse of that employee is critical, too. Even if the employee does come to work while the spouse is in jeopardy, the employee wouldn’t have optimal focus because of concerns about the spouse. So include them in the plans. Educating the entire employee base will address not only the BCP critical staff, but everyone.
Children/Parents: In some respects, the children or dependent parents may be more critical to recovery. A single parent is not coming to work if that dependent is not safe. And in virtually every regional disaster, the schools are closed. So any work group recovery center (internal or external) must have provisions for children.
Pets: Every poll that’s been taken at every conference proves that a “dog” is a person! Cats are, too. Not too many years ago, Florida hurricane shelters would not allow pets to enter the center. As a result, entire families rode out storms in their car because they wouldn’t leave Rocky, the pet dog. The shelter policies have changed. But, families need to plan for this. Some hotels allow pets under normal circumstances. Others will allow them as part of the negotiation for recovery services. Have you asked these questions?
Medicine/First-aid/Glasses: It is illegal to ask an employee if they take meds. However, it is appropriate to educate them on the need for extra medication in their car, or laptop case or “go kit.” Prescription numbers, suppliers, etc. should be stored in the smart phone or wallet.
Clothes: After hurricane Katrina, some organizations from New Orleans spent many months recovering in northern hot sites. Most of the employees did not have winter clothes. Plan for this. Know where the recovery center is. Know where the Goodwill/ Salvation Army stores are to be able to buy emergency clothes quickly and economically.
Water: A family can survive for days without food, but potable water is critical. Almost as important is water to flush toilets, both from a sanitary standpoint and an emotional standpoint. Store drinking water in sealed jugs from the store. Store water for bathing/flushing in those rinsed out, empty jugs from milk, juice, or water.
Food: This is a great project for children. Every time Mom goes to the store, involve the children in buying an extra can of soup or other ready to eat food for family preparedness. (Make sure the soup doesn’t require adding water). Have the child date the can so the stock can be rotated. Don’t forget pet food. If that runs out, the pets are going to get some of the family’s food.
Power: A small generator can save food in the refrigerator and freezer, or provide limited heat, or even entertainment. (The “or” is to point out that the generator can do all these things, but perhaps not concurrently.) A battery operated radio is a good substitute for “entertainment power.”
Heat: Do not use gas grills to heat rooms. Our ancestors heated their homes with fireplaces. We can’t heat an entire house with one fireplace. But we can heat a room, and cook meals at the same time.
Refrigerator/Freezer: If you don’t have a generator, and there’s a power outage, your food is at risk but only if you open the door and let the warm air in. Tie the appliances shut. Of course, they can be untied but the rope says “Don’t open me” better than a sign would. Duct tape will do that, too.
Cooking: Even in a disaster, we want things to be as normal as possible. Hot meals are normal. Without power, cooking is still possible: in the fireplace, on the gas grill, on the portable gas stove that’s used for tailgates, camping, or picnics. (Use outside, only!) This can be a great perk for employees’ families. Allow them in the cafeteria. When food is catered for the recovery team, order extra food to be given to the employees to take home.
Local and Remote Contacts: The most important thing in a recovery is communications. The first thing that fails is communications. But, families want to know that everyone is safe. Create an out of area contact plan, now – not at the time of disaster. In other words, use a family member that lives outside the area as the “switchboard” or central repository when family members are trying to reach each other to make sure that everyone is safe. One of the challenges of implementing an emergency notification system is getting employees to provide personal phone numbers. They’re more likely to do this if there’s something in it for them. Allowing the use of such a system for families in a regional disaster will get employee “buy in.”
Phone: Cell phones, for calling, won’t work in regional disasters due to overload. Texting probably will. It certainly has better odds with smart phones. This is a great way to get teenagers involved in personal preparedness. Make them the family Communications Officer.
AC and DC Charger: Every organization should include an AC/DC charger for every critical employee in their BCP budget. This can then be used in the car to charge laptops and cell phones. Yes, gasoline is required. Remember that gas can for the lawn mower?
Tarps, Rope, and Duct Tape: These are must-haves for whatever. To put on glass if we didn’t buy plywood. To seal the frig or freezer. To create a make shift shelter. To better insulate the one room that we’re going to heat. ETC!
“Go Kits”: There are some superb ones for sale. Every organization should consider buying one for each BIA identified critical employee. For the rest of the employees, they can make their own, with food, water, etc. ready to go. This is a great use for those bags that were brought back from the last BCP conference. Also another way to get children involved. One large aerospace company in California, as part of their preparedness roll-out, coordinated personal preparedness purchases, in bulk for better pricing, and then allowed the employees to pay with interest-free payroll deductions over time.
The bottom line is that no business can operate (survive?) without its critical staff. And the staff won’t come to work if the families aren’t secure. If the organization wants to get buy-in, then educating and preparing the families is the best way. Perks help, too. Well prepared organizations spend thousands, in fact millions, of dollars on consultants (a good thing, hmmm), hot sites, laptops, tests, etc. They should invest a few dollars in employee preparedness – education, AC/DC converters, food, family inclusion in emergency notification and “Go Kits.”
About The Author
Edward B. (Ted) Brown III, CBCP CBCV MBCI, President & CEO of KETCHConsulting, is a member of the Contingency Planning Hall of Fame and a BCI USA Board Member. He is a frequent contributor to the Disaster Resource GUIDE and a speaker at major industry conferences. You can reach him at tedbrown@ ketchconsulting.com, or (484) 919-2966.