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Part 2 Leading People Through Disasters

June 2, 2006
Related Topics: Policies and Procedures, Strategic Planning, Featured Article
In their book Leading People Through Disasters: An Action Guide Preparing for and Dealing With the Human Side of Crises, authors Kathryn D. McKee, SPHR, and Liz Guthridge lay out a step-by-step blueprint to help HR professionals deal with the effect of disasters on their workforces.

    Workforce Management is pleased to provide you with four advance excerpts from McKee and Guthridge’s book, which is published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers and available July 28, 2006

Book Excerpt
Part 2–Leading People Through Disasters
An Action Guide: Preparing for and Dealing With the Human Side of Crises

Responsibility Structure
Because we were concerned equally about caring for our employees and protecting our employer, we devised a "responsibility structure" so that all affected managers, HR leaders and individuals in other key functions noted were clear on who was responsible for what once we were knew employees were safe and we were ready to start back to work.

    Each situation is different, and some of this may not apply to you, but be thinking about this type of clarity as you build your business continuity plan. We had to devise it during the emergency. How much more effective could we have been if this had been in place as part of the business continuity plan?

To closely monitor performance levels of all employees and refer to support professionals to facilitate early problem solving.


  • Monitor performance of employees.
  • Intervene quickly to determine issues if performance begins to decline.
  • Refer employees to support professionals.
  • Advise HR representative about employee relation issue.
  • Document performance decline on regular reports with copy to HR.
  • Be sensitive to needs and problems of employees.
  • Be aware of trends or problems developing in department.

Human Resources Managers
To assist managers with early problem detection, evaluate employee issues and refer to support professionals.


  • Sensitize managers to employee relations issues.
  • Educate managers and supervisors about the early problem detection process, and the importance of documentation and follow-through.
  • Provide counsel to managers in evaluating employee relations issues.
  • Attend intervention meeting as requested by managers/supervisors or employees.
  • Refer employee to employee assistance counselor or the corporate nurse as necessary.
  • Follow up with managers/supervisors or employees to ensure meetings with employee assistance counselor or the corporate nurse have taken place.
  • Intervene with managers or supervisors who may be experiencing difficulties.
  • Schedule debriefing/tension-reduction meetings to take notes and follow up on issues.
  • Be sensitive to trends or problems developing in departments or groups.
  • Review reports received from managers/supervisors; follow up as necessary.
  • Complete summaries for senior HR management as requested.
  • Provide recommendations to senior HR management and employee assistance department as to overall department issues or concerns.

Employee Assistance Counselors
These individuals included staff members and independent contractors brought in to assist due to the large number of cases.
   Role: To provide professional counseling for employees who may need assistance with personal problems, stress management, etc., and refer employee as necessary for outside assistance.


  • Counsel employees who have referred themselves or been referred by a manager or HR representative.
  • Refer employees who may need assistance from outside professionals.
  • Advise HR representative if a problem or trend is developing in departments.
  • Advise HR representative about coordinating assistance for departments requiring debriefing or tension-reducing session.
  • Conduct and/or attend debriefing or tension-reducing sessions whenever possible.
  • Advise senior HR managers regarding overall company trends or problems.
  • Educate managers/supervisors and HR staff about early problem detection and intervention techniques.

Corporate Nurse
    Role: To provide assistance and/or referrals to employees who have general health complaints.


  • Provide medical attention to referred employees experiencing health problems.
  • Refer employees who need counseling to employee assistance counselors.
  • Advise HR representatives/EAP counselors about problems or trends developing in departments.
  • Offer assistance to departments or individuals, including techniques for stress-reduction and self-help.

    By the time our next disaster struck, we were much better prepared to help HR staff and managers deal with the trauma, which our managers and employees noticed and appreciated.

Corporate Communications
   Corporate communications also plays a critical role. The function may or may not be part of the HR function, but a strong partnership between the two is vital in any type of crisis. Here are sample roles and responsibilities, especially in terms of partnering with HR on employee communication issues.

    Role: To communicate with employees, media and other key audiences quickly, accurately and consistently. The goal should also be to communicate as comprehensively as possible and to encourage two-way communication.


  • Sensitize leadership and HR to internal and external communication issues, especially those related to the safety of employees and the reputation of the company.
  • Work with senior leaders in advance of the disaster to determine who will be the voice of the company to external media and who will communicate to employees, and provide media training as needed.
  • Maintain an up-to-date media list and also regularly meet with local media, especially local radio and TV newscasters whose stations have their own news gathering departments, and discuss how you will work together in a crisis.
  • Provide counsel to leaders and HR on communication issues, and be prepared to adjust plans and actions as the situation warrants it.
  • Keep up-to-date fact sheets about the organization, including stock photos and videos.
  • Partner with HR and IT to develop telephone trees that include home telephone numbers as well as cell phone numbers and personal e-mail addresses so you can notify employees quickly as well as continue to communicate with them.
  • Work with IT to create alternate Web sites and set up toll-free telephone numbers that employees can check and call after a disaster strikes; consider a separate number and site for customers and media.
  • Coordinate with safety/security to include communications, especially employee communications, in their plans, procedures and policies.
  • Ensure that the communications staff has the supplies it needs to communicate under all circumstances, especially if the power goes out, as does the entire telecommunications structure (e.g., satellitephones, battery-operated radios and TVs, power chargers that will work in a car battery, hand-cranked or battery-operated chargers for cell phones and PDAs).
  • Clarify roles among the communications staff, especially around internal and external communication and shifts of operations.
  • Make arrangements for backup support, such as communications staff in other offices around the globe or an outside agency in another city.
  • Be ready to intervene if managers or supervisors or others in the organization may be experiencing difficulties disseminating misinformation.
  • Schedule debriefing meetings to assess how well messages are getting through, what else needs to be communicated and what other communication actions are needed.
  • Regularly test the crisis communication plan and, either as part of the test or separately, remind employees of the actions they need to take both at work and at home if a disaster strikes.

    Disasters are no time for silo thinking or operating. Leaders need to work together across functional lines to take care of managers, employees and the organization.

Action Steps
Consider how you will deal with the behavioral issues that can occur as a result of a disaster. There are examples and lessons learned on this subject throughout this book to draw on.

    Define roles and responsibilities for dealing with these issues with these groups and discuss how you will partner during an emergency:

  • Human resources staff
  • Line managers
  • Workers’ compensation/risk management staff
  • Communications staff

Please see: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

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