According to a recently released study by the University of Southern California's School of Urban and Regional Planning, Los Angeles area businesses lost $5.9 billion from interruptions caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The study polled 389 companies and 504 business sites of which 81.8 percent of the businesses surveyed suffered interruptions in their operations.
The most common reason for business interruption was employees attending to personal matters; 73.5 percent of the companies polled were affected in this way.
We can decrease employee absenteeism by encouraging the employee to participate in a Personal Disaster Communications Exercise (PDCE). Our main objective of the PDCE is to encourage the employee to communicate through company sponsored support groups and identify and share their personal concerns in a "what if scenario" given a future disaster.
We know that disasters can produce major interruptions in the natural flow of life. Employees will be less likely to attend to personal matters following a disaster if they have rehearsed the safety measures to be taken in future disasters. By rehearsing their safety measures, we find that the employee feels in control over their life and will deal with the distress more easily when a disaster occurs.
Personal matters are prioritized by three types. They are:
Type A (immediate concerns that could prevent the employee from returning to work)
Type B (moderate concerns that could make the employee feel anxious and could decrease their level of performance)
Type C (low priority concerns that the employee could deal with over time)
Once the employee has completed an assessment of their personal concerns, the support group is used as a buffer to assist the employee in activating a plan that remedies those personal concerns.
An example of Type A is:
How do I reunite with my loved ones following a disaster?
1) know your out-of-state contact phone number
2) have two meeting places - one meeting place outside your home (i.e. neighbor's front yard) in case your home is destroyed and another meeting place outside of the neighborhood in case loved ones can't return home.
3) have a list of EBS radio stations and their frequencies to find out shelter locations and other information.
Other examples of Type A personal matters are:
- What is the school's policy in releasing my children following a disaster?
- Who will check on my pets and feed them if I cannot make it home?
An example of a Type B is:
What agencies do I call to begin the recovery process?
1) Become familiar with your homeowners and earthquake insurance policy prior to a disaster.
Other examples of Type B personal matters are:
- Who can I contact to talk openly about my feelings of fear, anxiety and irritability including family counseling.
- Where will I rent while my living quarters are being repaired?
An example of a Type C is:
Where will I spend the holidays?
1) Holidays are an integral part of one's normal routine. In case of a disaster, have a few options available so you can participate in the holiday activities.
2) Consider eating at a restaurant with relatives and/or friends to enjoy the holiday tradition.
To survive a disaster, one can strategies and activate a plan that will remedy their personal concerns, exercise the plan to keep it current, and finally update the plan to make necessary adjustments.
We know from our last experience in the Northridge Earthquake that many homeowners and apartment tenants could not rest assured until a structural engineer checked their living quarters and identified the areas that were unsafe or needed to be repaired. When people have a loss of feeling safe in their homes or even in their workplace, their performance levels decrease.
If we have learned some lessons from the Northridge Earthquake, we will have taken the precautionary measures to secure our foundations, to mitigate our non-structural hazards in our homes and in our workplace, to remove important documents from our place of residence a video of our personal property and placed both of them in a safe deposit box, and to activate a family preparedness plan that is multi-disaster oriented.
When a company cares about its employees, then the employees care about the company. In a crisis, a joint effort of cooperation develops between the employer and the employees to minimize business interruptions.
Employees will be more dedicated to stay rather than leave the facility to tend to personal matters. The duration of downtime can determine whether the company will remain in business. When the company goes out of business, obviously the employees no longer receive paychecks.
A company can integrate the Personal Disaster Communications Exercise with their Emergency Preparedness Plan in Phase II. The Emergency Preparedness Plan has six phases and they are:
On-site review of your emergency preparedness and life safety systems
Assessment, development, and documentation of your emergency preparedness plan
Psychological trauma intervention training for your management and emergency operation center team
Life safety training in CPR, First Aid, Triage, Evacuation and Urban Search and Rescue
Emergency supply review: on site disaster emergency medical center and employee survival supplies
Drills and exercises of the Emergency Preparedness Plan
Having a clear understanding of your employees' personal concerns, developing and implementing the right Emergency Preparedness Plan, and giving the employees an opportunity to practice will reduce the company's risk of exposure to injury and business loss before a disaster happens. How much time, persistence and money you spend will determine your success in resuming your business following a disaster.
TAKE THE TIME TO INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES NOW. YOU MAY NOT GET A SECOND CHANCE FOR SURVIVAL.
Deborah Serina is president of RDR Services, which specializes in total disaster recovery relationships.