Corporate-wide awareness training has been widely recognized as an important ingredient of an on-going, pro-active approach to disaster preparedness and recovery, crisis management, and business continuity planning and implementation.
While several target audiences may be recognized for awareness training, the most important groups are as follows:
- Senior management
- Functional management and employees involved in disaster recovery and business continuity
- General employee population
It has been suggested that senior management, functional management, and employees involved in disaster recovery and business continuity should be given awareness training at several phases of the business continuity planning and implementation project.
- Project initiation, especially for senior management to establish the need for and commitment to disaster recovery and business continuity planning
- Risk assessment and business impact analysis, in order to educate relevant employees in methodology and standards
- Development and implementation, to train employees on methodological approaches and enforce standards across the organization
- Testing/exercising, evaluation, and maintenance of the plan, in order to ensure that procedures are followed during test/exercises, and that the appropriate methodologies and standards are utilized during evaluation and maintenance.
What about the awareness training for the general employee population? What should be the content of these training programs?
Should these awareness seminars be conducted before or after developing and implementing the plan? Or, both?
Who should be the specific target groups for these awareness training programs? What external materials, especially those that emphasize personal, family-related, and personal issues should be included in these training programs?
This article addresses these issues in an attempt to provide some guidelines for developing and administering employee awareness training programs in organizations.
The Need for Employee Awareness Training
The mere knowledge of the existence of a plan is enough to elevate the comfort level and self-assurance of employees in organizations. Such knowledge is certain to make employees take comfort in knowing that senior management is committed to the protection and preservation of the assets of the organization, including people, the number one asset in any organization. Additionally, the organization can realize several benefits, as well as ensure long run successful implementation of the organization's continuity plan. Some of the benefits are as follows:
- Awareness of employees's role in the success of the continuity plan
- Awareness of emergency response procedures, thereby mitigating losses in a disaster event
- Awareness of prior preparations required of employees to prevent or mitigate personnel as well as professional losses, especially when advance warnings may be available for certain disaster events
- Knowledge of what to do prior to, during, and subsequent to a disaster, based on policies, procedures, plans, and preparations contained in the formally developed and approved continuity plan
- Knowledge of personal and professional impact of disasters and procedures to avoid or mitigate such impacts
- Identification of personal and professional roles in the successful implementation of business continuity.
Timing of Employee Awareness Training
General employee population is normally not involved directly in disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Therefore, this group does not have to be involved in the level of detail needed to create the policies, procedures, plans, and preparations needed to ensure business continuity.
In this regard, there is hardly any need for the general employee population to receive rigorous training in methodology and standards of developing business continuity plans. Furthermore, if substantive training is attempted prior to developing a plan, employees may raise specific and detailed questions which may not have been addressed yet.
While such questions should of course be most welcome, employees may become frustrated if they do not receive satisfactory answers! Such lack of credible and viable answers may frustrate employees and may result in a lack of enthusiasm and a negative environment for post-development employee awareness training programs!
The objective of a post-development employee awareness training program is to raise the level of awareness of employees' role prior to, during, and after an emergency event, both from a personal as well as professional perspective. This awareness, recognition, and acceptance of their role should be the sole purpose of employee awareness training programs.
The purpose of employee awareness training programs is not to make professional continuity planners out of employees, but to make employees lifeguards of not only business functions but also their own assets!
These and other benefits can be gained from employee awareness training programs which not only share information from the continuity plan but also emphasize personal safety, mitigation, and preparations.
Target Audiences for Awareness Training
Two distinct groups of employees may be targeted for employee awareness programs in most organizations. These are as follows:
1. For team members who may not have been involved in the development of the continuity plan, but are assigned to the teams to be the 'executors' of the plan procedures. Employee awareness training for these team members is essential to identify for the employees their roles, prior to, during, and after a disaster. Examples of these responsibilities include: reviewing the various checklists, logistics of the plan, procedures, as well as the overall responsibility of each team member.
2. The general employee population, comprised of all personnel at all levels of the organization, from the most junior level individual to the most senior person. For this audience, the awareness training program should reaffirm the company's commitment, the mission of the organization and the objectives, the critical business functions, and how they relate to the employee's own job responsibilities.
Content of Employee Awareness Training
A training program for continuity planners should emphasize 'details, details, and more details!' However, an employee awareness training program should not overburden employees with details but, instead emphasize 'examples, examples, examples!'
Such programs should provide a generic overview of the plan and avoid details. Any detail should be provided only to the extent that such details facilitate the employees' response and ensure their safety.
Examples of sections of the plan which should be presented in detail to all employees include the following:
- Notification procedures
- Evacuation procedures
- Reporting emergency events
- Bomb threats, etc.
A suggested packet of information that may be discussed and distributed to all employees is shown in Table 1.
External Information to be Included in Awareness Training
When developing employee awareness training programs, it is important to recognize and inform employees about external agencies which are available to provide additional information and guidelines of a personal and professional nature. These agencies include:
- Red Cross
- Local Fire/Emergency management offices
The awareness training program should develop relationships with agencies to assemble packets of information to provide valuable insight and support: 'Be prepared for emergencies!'
Disaster recovery planners and consultants have long maintained the need for awareness training for managers and employees to ensure on-going commitments, support, and participation in disaster recovery and business continuity planning and implementation. Such awareness is imperative when a disaster strikes and recovery, resumption, and business continuity efforts must be carried out swiftly with organization-wide support.
For the general employee population, a portion of which may not directly be involved in the recovery and resumption activities, awareness of the business continuity plan is essential for on-going support, commitment, and adjustments to any required changes in personal, professional, and organizational environment.
In this article, we have argued for employee awareness training after an organization's continuity plan is developed. This post-development training will ensure that employees not only understand the organization's commitment to continuity plans, but also recognize their role in the approved business continuity plan.
Mr. Rodolfo Garcia Diez is a Vice President-Strategic Planning Manager with a brokerage firm for the past 17 years. Dr. Raja K. Iyer, Ph.D., CDRP is an associate Professor of Information Systems and Management Sciences at the University of Texas at Arlington.