Organizing Human Resource Issues For Business Continuity

By Charles Kendell, CDRP

Part of the dilemma in planning for business continuity is the myriad of human issues to be dealt with - the human resource policies and procedures that impact employees involved in the response to disaster. My experience as a recovery planning consultant has provided me many instances where the human resource function was a critical but often ignored function in the planning for recovery. The problem is that because human resources encompasses so many factors, it is often difficult to identify and plan for all the issues in a logical manner.
I have identified four areas of the human resource consideration in business continuity planning. Within these four areas a variety of planning topics fall. However, by using these four groupings, it is possible to organize the planning effort into manageable and logical pieces. The four areas are:

1. Pre-disaster (planning phase)
2. Emergency response (what do you do when the event occurs)
3. Recovery (what do you do while you are in the process of using that part of your plan which recovers your business)
4. Post Recovery (what are the long term recovery issues)

Pre-disaster Planning Issues

There are two principles that are very important. The first is communicating expectations. More than any function within an organization, the human resource function is the keeper of the organization’s expectations. It is usually through the human resource office that company announcements are made, company policies are announced that, in fact, the will of executive management is enforced. It is through the human resource office that we would expect very clear goals, guidelines, expectations set out for employees regarding business continuity.
For example, when our consultants review an organization during a risk analysis process, one of the things we like to see is an employee handbook. Does that handbook discuss continuity. Does the handbook describe the expectations of the company regarding the employee being present and helping restore the business in the event of a disruption? Or is there anything in the handbook that describes the employee’s responsibility for notifying management of conditions that may lead to a disruption of work, e.g., fire extinguishers that are not charged, exit lights that are burned out, or other obvious possible hazards?
Similarly, is there anything in the employee orientation process that speaks of business disruption expectations or procedures? Often times, organizations ignore this opportunity. However, it is one of the first opportunities that employers have to set the stage for what is expected of employees once an event occurs. Inevitably, in every type of post-disaster analysis that you read, one of the issues is always “What did they expect me to do?”, and it’s a very good topic for conversation at staff meetings. Have you ever been told by your boss what is expected of you? Clearly communicating expectations for employee response is the most important element of pre-disaster planning.
The second principle involves planning for an emergency work environment. There are many issues to be resolved during the planning phase which will impact your recovery plan execution. For example, your recovery plan may call for employees to be relocated at an alternate site in another town, another state.

When those people get there:
-Where will they live?
-How will their living costs and needs be cared for?
-How will they be paid?
-Will they work normal or extended shifts?
-Will they get overtime for extended shifts?
-Will they get compensatory time?

The best position is to handle these issues up front during the planning phase. In other words, do not wait until the event occurs to figure out how you’re going to handle employees that are four states away, working 12 hour shifts when their normal shift is 8. Work all that out ahead of time.

Emergency Response Issues

When does emergency response stop and human resource recovery begin? In most organizations, the emergency response may or may not be the responsibility of the human resource department. It may be directed by the building management or risk management functions - it may be directed by outside forces, such as the fire department or other public protection agencies. It’s very important that you define quickly whose responsibility emergency response is within your organization.
When planning for the emergency response phase, there are a number of issues to be discussed. The important one for human resources is readiness. While other parts of the organization are evacuating and beginning the recovery response, human resources is expected to be prepared and functional as a critical business unit.
One of the first issues for the human resources function is employee life and safety, and even fatalities. You must have some way within your organization to know where employees are and what has happened to them. Any event that affects the building to the extent that you may have to invoke your business resumption plan may have also caused injuries or fatalities. Questions to be asked include:

-Who is responsible for calling 911?
-How will first responders get into the building?
-What is the company’s role once employees are evacuated?
-What’s the company’s responsibility to find safe haven or medical treatment for employees?
In many companies, an employee’s supervisor will take the responsibility and go with that employee to the hospital. Generally most company’s responsibility extends to the point where that employee arrives at the hospital and some disposition is made of their care. Does your company clearly identify who is responsible for assisting emergency response personnel and identifying those individuals who may have succumbed to the disaster or who were injured or in need of care?
Another human resources issue has to do with notifying families of injured or missing employees. Some companies leave it up to the individual supervisor; others leave it to human resource as the one to contact the family in any kind of event, whether it is a fatality or an injury. It is important that human resources have the recovery items it needs to do this job.
Handling or working with the media is also important; it may be the first notice families of employees have that an emergency has occurred. Few events would occur in your building that would go unnoticed by outside individuals. A fire, a flood, any kind of event would draw attention. The attention that is drawn may very well be next of kin of the families. It will be school systems of the surrounding area. It will be grandmothers that are baby-sitting the children, it will be spouses, it will be a variety of things. So the issue then becomes “How do we notify families in a conscientious way?”
Part of that issue is communicating with and accounting for employees. How do you know that all of the employees are out of the building? If you don’t have a very effective emergency response program that has regularly scheduled fire drills and floor monitors and those sorts of things, you may have a lot of work to do. It is vitally important that be done.

Recovery Issues

What most employees want to know is “What do you want me to do?” “Where do I fit into this plan?” If you haven’t involved them in the planning process and told them at the business unit level what’s expected of them during business recovery, how can you expect them to respond appropriately? Involving the employees, at a variety of levels, in planning the response will ensure excellent ideas and an effective response.
During recovery your organization will be working in an “organizationally altered state.” For example, you may have very altered work schedules, some very different than you normally have. Some plans call for recovery teams to work longer days but fewer days per week, to avoid burn-out. How will that be accounted for in a payroll system or in leave balance calculations, or absentee reports?
For staff working at hot sites, we have often recommended that rather than work five eight hour days as usual, work four 10 hour days. Then rotate those people home and send in another group. The work being processed in an emergency response is usually the most critical work. It might be more prudent to have a little longer work day and shorter week and get them home sooner to avoid burn-out.
In order to create a focus for human resources response, we have recommended the establishment of a human resources command center, often as part of the emergency operations command center. This one location would have in its listings employee emergency contact information for notifying families as well as, personnel polices, and emergency procedures that had been developed during earlier phases for use in the recovery, e.g. work schedules teams lists, benefit adjustments. More importantly it immediately creates a presence for carrying out the plan, specifically:

- Notifying employees when their business units were expected to resume partial or full activity.
- Filling critical vacancies through temporary services.
- Coordinating employee assistance for those employees impacted by the outage, and,
- Providing management with issues and concerns that may need their attention regarding employees.

During recovery the human resource function also will be called on to assist employees in a heightened manner. What kind of assistance might you plan for? The literature is replete with all kinds of company assistant programs that organizations have put together to handle major cataclysmic events, including:
-Emergency food
-Emergency cash
-Providing cash
-Storage of household goods
All these factors are important to have considered in the recovery plan. The extent to which employees basics needs and those of their families are taken care of will determine the extent to which the employee is able to focus on recovering the business.

Post Disaster Issues

In the post disaster environment, there are a number of human resource issues as well. One is the provision of extended benefits. Is the company going to extend its benefit package to employees even though they’re not working because of the disaster, because they’re not one of the critical recovery teams you have identified in your business resumption plan?
Another issue is leave - time off. This issue may best be resolved after the recovery when the extent of the issues is known. However the company needs to think through generally what would be policy, e.g., would you make distinctions for types of jobs, how long would you be in a forgiving frame of mind.
For example, there were some tornadoes in North Carolina associated with Hurricane Hugo, and a number of employees had some very severe damage to their homes. The building they worked in was OK. But there were about 70 employees that had some substantial damage of homes to the extent that they were rebuilding major sections of their home. The company gave them a 90-day period within which they were very forgiven regarding time off. Basically the policy was - If you need to be home for a couple of hours during the day to wait for the plumber, the electrician, then go ahead and do that and we’ll not even worry about that. But after 90 days, most of the work should have been done, let’s just get on with our normal lives.
Another issue is financial assistance. In recovery planning we have talked about the immediate kind of cash employees would need. What about longer term. Does the company have a credit union? Would they be willing to extend some loan payments, forgive some loan payments, extend loan terms or other approaches to assist employees that are recovering from a disaster. Is there anything that the company should do? Many companies, in the aftermath of Andrew, came to the front and became, in may ways, a benefactor for their employees.
Of vital importance in this post disaster phase is the issue of employee recognition. After a paralyzing snow in January 1994, many organizations made a very diligent and conscientious effort to recognize the contributions their employees made during the outage.
There are very few things you can do - that cost you so little - but that will mean so much. These include having a party for everyone who pitched in during the outage, with recognition of contribution. One hospital, for example, gave out tee-shirts saying “I survived the Winter of 1994.”
Whatever the approach, the important thing is that the management of the organization coordinate and have ready a program by which employees’ contributions are readily recognized. A little of that goes a very long way.


While often overlooked, the human resource part of business recovery is a vital link between the employees that produce the recovery and the plan that guides it. However, very little in a business recovery plan development can be ignored by human resources. Careful consideration of the issues will allow those planning a business recovery to protect and support its most critical resource - its employees.

Charles Kendell, CDRP is a senior consultant for Dataguard Recovery Services, Inc.

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Disaster Recovery Worldİ 1999, and Disaster Recovery Journalİ 1999, are copyrighted by Systems Support, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited without the express written permission form Systems Support, Inc.