Emergency Plans Begin with the Basics

September 16, 2001
Human resources executives can play a major role in setting up disaster-survival and recovery plans. At the very least, HR should serve in a consultative and advisory capacity, such as that played by Sue Tempero, vice president of human resources at the Des Moines Register and Lindi Funston, human resources vice president at Santa Monica, California's St. John's Hospital and Health Center.

Whatever role you play in shaping and executing your company's disaster plan, there are certain basics that it should include. These basics, courtesy of Gail Hutchens, manager of business contingency planning for Pacific Bell Telephone Company near San Francisco, may seem simple, but following them will make recovery much easier.

Assess the Company's Vulnerabilities and Resources

  • Look at the company's vulnerabilities. Don't just think about computers, evaluate the business's critical functions
  • Look at available resources. What is available in the community? Consider doing an employee skills inventory. Are there any amateur radio operators? Volunteer firefighters? Individuals with medical expertise and CPR training?
  • Itemize what you'll need to retrieve if you're forced out of the building. You may be allowed back into building for a short time. Know what you'll need to get
  • Know local resources. If employees are stranded at work, how will the business care for them? Find out where the nearest American Red Cross shelter is
  • Know about your vendors' emergency provisions. If they have a disaster, you're affected.

Examine Communication Options

  • Don't rely on one means of communication. Inventory your communication tools and know how they'll function in disaster. Know what goes through the switchboard and what doesn't. For example, does your public address system function through the PBX? If so, it may fail when power goes out. What kind of communication back-up exists? For example, consider in-office cellular phones if you have individuals in the field using them. In a crisis, they can avoid heavily congested central switchboards. Do you have fax machines with phones or computers with modems? All of these can provide alternative methods for communication. Put iridescent stickers on these devices so that if the lights go out, people can see them glow in the dark
  • Determine how you're going to communicate with your employees. Know how to tell them what the business is going to do and what is expected of them
  • Cellular phones are helpful in an emergency. Cell sites that go down are repaired very quickly and are viable in an emergency. Memorize important cellular phone numbers. You won't know it during a disaster if you don't know it before, and there is no 411 directory for cellular numbers
  • Many managers who have businesses that have gone through disasters insist on amateur radios. In a crisis, these are quite reliable forms of getting the message out
  • Consider creating a family-notification program.

Explore Alternative Locations

  • Think about an alternate location where you can conduct business if you're unable to use the normal site. It might be a company warehouse or another business with which you've formed an agreement
  • Store back-up records off site where you can access them at your regular place of business
  • Create an arrangement where a bank or another company can run paychecks if your business is unable to do so
  • Purchase a safe or create a place for money—travelers' checks or cash—in the event you need emergency money to purchase fuel or feed employees
  • Determine who is responsible for getting the mail or informing the postmaster where to send mail.

Personnel Journal, April 1994, Vol. 73, No. 4, p. 78.