In Disaster Planning, Don't 'Reinvent the Wheel'

By Rita Zeidner Sep 23, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS—A little retooling of an existing contingency plan can go a long way toward helping manage the workplace in the event of a H1N1 (swine) flu pandemic, according to risk management experts speaking at a two-day conference sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” advised Eileen Shue, SPHR, vice president of corporate resources for the Sterling Group, a Mishawaka, Ind. property management firm. “Rely on what you’ve done previously,” she told human resource professionals Sept 23, 2009. She challenged her audience to rely on procedures developed—and lessons learned—from snow days, earthquakes and other natural disasters that caused scheduling disruptions in the recent past.

Best practices include: regularly updating employee contact lists, inventorying employee skills and cross-training workers so they can fill in for one another.

“Now is the time to beef up those lists,” she said.

Companies should also update their plans for ensuring workers have a way to get to work in the event of a transportation meltdown and establish plans for staggering shifts or making other scheduling changes if necessary.

Margaret Spence, chief executive officer at Douglas Claims and Risk Consultants, Inc., a South Florida risk management firm, recommends that HR professionals dust off their insurance plans and ensure their companies have adequate liability coverage in the event of a work stoppage. It may be necessary to provide updated information to their insurance and liability providers. “What happens if your supplier needs to shut down,” she asked rhetorically. “Do you have insurance to cover business interruption? Who is going to pay the salaries of workers if they are sent home because they don’t have the supplies they need to do their jobs?”

Don’t underestimate the importance of media training, Spence advised. Companies can limit the risk of a media disaster by training multiple people to answer questions from the press, she added. “You don’t want just anyone walking out the door of your company to be the one in front of cameras.” Ensure that multiple employees are trained to answer media questions, particularly those relating to steps your company is taking to prevent the virus from spreading and how it is protecting workers and customers, she advised.

Rita Zeidner is senior writer for HR Magazine.


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