After the Storm: Communication Key to Disaster Recovery

By Roy Maurer Nov 8, 2012
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Monitoring and keeping staff informed, and ensuring staff support systems are in place are critical HR functions during and after a disruption of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Disaster Preparedness: Human Resources Hurricane Handbook.

All of the SHRM members interviewed for this article had disaster recovery plans in place and initiated those plans effectively. Successful communication with affected staff begins prior to the disruptive event.

As the storm was nearing impact, Katie Ledvina, SPHR, alerted all 55 staff of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in Arlington, Va., to the possible disruption and instructed them on the organization’s policies regarding operating status and telework.

Ledvina, the assistant director of administration for human resources at NACAC, printed a hard copy of the most up-to-date employee contact information directory to bring home with her so that she’d have it on hand in the event she needed to get in touch with staff but didn’t have access to the organization’s computer systems. “Time sheet approvals were [done] earlier than normal, just in case we were closed or didn’t have power later in the week,” she told SHRM Online.

Laura LeBoeuf, PHR, practice coordinator at Virginia Eyecare Center in Burke, Va., kept track of her organization’s 18 employees during the storm. “We have a system wherein the doctor in charge that day calls me and then notifies the other department heads and they notify their staff,” LeBoeuf told SHRM Online. “We made the close decision for the next day by 4 p.m. each day of the storm. We then sent out a blanket e-mail and text blast and put a notification on our Web page and Facebook page,” she said. “We have had a disaster recovery plan in place for the past eight years and I would say our communications worked very well,” she added.

The SHRM disaster preparedness guide advises HR to work to identify and organize teams to check on the physical structure of the worksite. “Several staff were assigned to come check the office after the storm had passed to look for physical damage to the office space and confirm our power and computer systems were functioning normally prior to reopening the office to the whole staff,” Ledvina said. “Thankfully, our office only had some water leak damage and intermittent power loss,” she added.

In cases of worksite evacuation, it’s critical that paper records and IT assets that contain personally identifiable information be protected. “We backed up our computers to external hard drives so as not to lose our patient records and other important items,” said Maggie Conaway, HR manager for Dental Associates of Delaware, based in Wilmington. Conaway’s worksite was without power for two days.

This was one item of NACAC’s emergency plan that was not timely addressed. “The plan we’d made to move our backup servers off-site earlier this year was unfortunately delayed to Nov.3-4—one week after Sandy,” Ledvina said. Thankfully no data was lost.

As the danger from a disaster event dissipates, the HR department should spearhead a meeting of a predetermined crisis team which could include senior executives from the business, HR, legal, technology and facilities areas to ascertain if there are employee or business needs that need to be addressed. “The morning after we reopened, the CEO called a meeting of the senior staff to assess areas impacted by the storm and address the application of our emergency planning procedures,” Ledvina said. “The CEO also worked with senior leadership to determine who on our event staff was scheduled to travel for work. We had to reroute staff that were traveling to ensure they would be safe while Washington, D.C., air transportation was disrupted,” she said. The NACAC crisis team also used the time to strategize on how to handle the possible postponement of events the organization was scheduled to host in Baltimore and Atlantic City.

HR can assist employees who experienced significant loss in finding local resources and applying for aid and scheduling EAP counselors for on-site visits the week following the storm for group sessions and individual meetings. These sessions should include family members.

“We have the EAP resource available and have reminded our employees about it,” said HR Manager Karen Barry, PHR, of Aeroflex/Weinschel, based in Frederick, Md.

The microelectronics technology provider came through the storm relatively unscathed, with just a few downed trees around the property and about 30-40 percent of the 110-employee workforce having to take leave due to problems like power outages and damaged personal property, Barry told SHRM Online. “We’re always mindful if folks have issues to deal with,” she said. “We let them take time off to deal with those issues.”

Pay and Leave Concerns in Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Many employers on the East Coast are struggling with compensation and leave issues in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. These SHRM Online resources can help:

*Employee Leave Eligibility and Natural Disasters.

*Hurricane Sandy Raises Wage and Hour Issues.

*When Disasters Strike: Pay, Leave and Related Issues.

SHRM’s Disaster Prep and Response Resource Page provides guidance on planning for business disruptions, policies to handle unexpected absences, and resources to help recover from natural and manmade disasters.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

SHRM resources sure to be helpful before, during and after events like Hurricane Sandy include:


What steps should a company take to remain open during inclement weather?

What is the best way to plan for disasters that may affect our business, like the Gulf oil spill?

What are our obligations to employees when there is a building emergency such as a water main break?

Our company decided to close early due to inclement weather and we may need to close completely tomorrow. What are our obligations in terms of pay?


Disaster Preparedness: Human Resources Hurricane Handbook

Weather Conditions: Adverse Weather Conditions Policy

Weather Conditions: Inclement Weather Policy


Disaster Preparedness Checklist (HR Department)

Disaster Preparedness Checklist (Employee)


Crisis Management Planning

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