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Nov 09
2012

Taking Care of Your People in Disaster Response

Posted by: Dr Tom Phelan in DRJ Blogs

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Dr Tom Phelan

It's about time. Someone has admitted that DR/BCP writers have ignored the personal issues of employees following a disaster when creating business continuity plans, reviewing them, or just writing about them. Eric Krell wrote in Business Finance on November 6, 2012, an article entitled "Sandy Exposes the Human Side of Continuity." I was alerted to the article by Phil Rothstein. Perhaps for Mr. Krell, Sandy was HIS first exposure to the human side of continuity. I've been teaching a unit called "Take Care of Your People" with my colleague Deidrich Towne, Jr. at DRJ conferences since 1999. We have presented lessons learned from our real experience of "people" issues associated with disaster response.

People, including employees, have routines that must be followed daily. Examples are taking care of children, pets, elderly parents, and farm animals. If you were to review Maslow's hierarchy, you wouldn't find work or career in the list of critical, life-sustaining functions. Let me give you an example. When putting together a strike plan, management employees were assigned duties requiring they work 6 days, 12-hour shifts. I got a call from a woman who said she couldn't work that many hours in a week. I told her it was a "condition of employment" for management personnel. She responded, "Dr. Phelan, three months ago my husband and I adopted a child on the condition I would not work outside the home more than 35 hours per week. If I accept the strike assignment, I will lose my child." I called her boss and set up a job-sharing arrangement to cover the duty.

There are human considerations that "trump" reporting to work. These are escalated when disaster strikes.

So, what's a business continiuty planner to do? Some of you remember the exercise I used to illustrate what might happen when one is required to work under alternate or disaster recovery circumstances. Remember my asking you to sign your name while talking on the phone? Then I asked you to put the phone in the other hand and sign your name again. I observed three things.

1. You laughed, knowing that signing your name with the other hand would be difficult. This is an expression of fear or anxiety. This almost always happens when people are asked to work under alternate conditions. You can counter some of this with more exercises.

2. Your second signature was of lower quaility than your first. People working in disaster response mode will often not produce the same quality of work as they would under normal conditions. Plan for time to correct errors.

3. You took more time to sign your name with the other hand. Workers in alternate or disaster response mode will need more time to complete the same work they complete under normal circumstance. You can counter this with longer shifts and planning for backlog once the disaster response is over.

When workers have pressing needs at home, they will meet those needs before reporting to work. You need to plan for a certain percentage of your workforce to be unavailable in disaster response.

Most of all, you need to be compassionate toward those workers who have to make the difficult choice to "not report" because personal issues are more important. Find time to discuss this both in advance of a disaster and certainly during the debreif following a disaster.

I congratulate Eric Krell for admitting he had not considered this prior to Hurricane Sandy. He will going forward.