Businesses Move to Protect Employees After Brussels Bombings

Boeing, Associated Press activate disaster, business continuity plans after attacks

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek March 23, 2016

Updated March 23

Bombings in Brussels on Tuesday cast a pall of fear and shock across Europe and the rest of the world and intensified multinational businesses’ efforts to keep employees safe and secure.

Aerospace manufacturer Boeing Co., which has corporate offices in Chicago, has expatriate employees working in Brussels.

“We were very shocked and horrified by the Brussels attacks,” wrote Lisa-Marie Gustafson, SHRM-CP, HR manager at Boeing, in an e-mail to SHRM Online. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management's Global Expertise Panel.

“Unfortunately, this is becoming commonplace for businesses operating globally, and it is important to have established security measures in place.”

The Associated Press (AP) reported that in just over a year, Paris, Copenhagen and Brussels “have been ravaged by bombs and gunfire. After each attack life slowly returns to normal. But it’s a new normal for Europe, where terror alerts are always on high and where people in cities so far spared major violence assume it’s a matter of when, not if.”

Safety ‘No. 1 Concern’

Employee safety is Boeing’s “No. 1 concern,” Gustafson said. Workers in affected areas immediately receive a Security Alert informing them of the situation and instructing them on immediate safety precautions they should take.

“They would continue to receive alerts and updates as long as the threat continues,” she wrote. “Depending on the situation and severity of the situation, we may ask the employees to shelter in place until we know they can return home safely.”

If employees usually use public transportation and it is shut down, the company tries to help them find alternative ways to get home, she said. One news report from the U.K. indicated that taxis around Brussels were operating free of charge Tuesday to help people get home safely.

If it appears that employees and their families are in danger, Gustafson said, Boeing’s security team “would reach out to them immediately and assist with whatever next steps need to be taken.”

Staying Connected

Brussels’ Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Tuesday issued a plea on Twitter for people to use social media, including texts, to communicate as the city’s mobile networks were "getting saturated.” People there were asked not to call friends and family as phone networks became overloaded.

The AP, which has a bureau in Brussels, uses an internal e-mail system to communicate with employees.

“Our systems do not go down,” said Carol Joe Yen, director of international HR at AP in New York City. She noted it’s important that organizations provide a way for employees to check in.

AP determined that all of its employees in Brussels were safe by using an up-to-date employee contact list, she said.

And Boeing’s Gustafson said that her organization would comply “as reasonably [as] possible” if a government where it is conducting business advises people to stay off the Internet.

“In this global economy, businesses rely on electronic connection to ensure communication wherever your office is located. Short term, we could survive unaffected. Long term, we would come up with an alternative solution,” she said.

Continuity Plan

On Tuesday, the Belgian government issued a threat level 4 alert for the country—meaning “a serious and imminent threat” to safety existed. All public transport in Brussels had been halted and tunnels closed Tuesday, according to the U.S. Embassy there. The Zaventem airport, scene of one of the attacks, remained closed Wednesday and was expected to remain closed Thursday and Friday, according to the airport website, which noted that the building was closed while the forensic investigation continues.

Organizations should have a business continuity plan when threatening situations develop, Yen told SHRM Online.

“Everybody should be aware of what those plans are and test those plans periodically,” she said, noting that in France organizations are required to test their continuity plans. AP also consults with its global security team to assess a situation, and as a group they determine a course of action needed, such as evacuation.

“We also have psychological support in place,” with circumstances dictating the level of intervention to deal with the after effects of tragedies, she said.  Yen advised organizations to have such resources in place that they can turn to easily; the time to develop those resources, she pointed out, is not in the midst of an emergency. 

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.


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