The July shootings at a Colorado theater which left twelve people dead and many more injured was not only a tragedy of huge proportion, but also an instance of workplace violence. While there is no way to guarantee that any workplace can be free of violence, employers can take steps to ensure that if a crisis occurs, the organization will be ready with well-planned policies and procedures in place.
Workplace crises take many forms which can result in mass casualties and/or property damage:
- Natural disasters such as flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake
- Acts of violence or terrorism
- Catastrophic accidents such as fire, plane crash
- Other serious catastrophes such as food or drug contamination, extended power outage, pandemic flu
Human Resources should play an important leadership role in developing and implementing a crisis management plan. A planning and coordinating team should also include your EAP provider, security, facilities management, finance, risk management, legal, public relations and senior management from all other departments. A multi-functional team approach ensures that your entire organization has input into and is aware of all policies and procedures, making them better equipped to deal with sudden emergencies.
The policies and procedures for crisis management must incorporate benefits for employees and families that may be unique for these circumstances only. The team should be identified with clearly defined leadership and supporting roles. There should be a plan in place to track all personnel. All policies must be published in accessible form to be available when needed.
Any crisis management plan must fit the business as well as the employees. For example, policies and procedures developed for a manufacturing facility will be different from a city corporate headquarters, or a university, hospital, or public facility such as a retailer, restaurant or theater.
When forming your plan, think of it in three stages:
1) An immediate disaster response specific for each type: think about evacuation, lock-down, contact with emergency services such as police and fire, treatment of all injured. Consider the character of the employees at the facility: shift-workers, office staff, health care workers. Also, are there members of the public at the facility on a daily basis, such as contract workers, theater-goers, shoppers, day or elder care clients, students? Don’t forget special situations such as those with disabilities who may need alternate communication and evacuation methods.
2) Short-term after the incident: communications will be critical. Have a call tree in place and ensure that it’s continually updated as employees change jobs and locations. Develop comprehensive communication plans with frequent updates for employees and families, community outreach and the media. Provide opportunities for incident debriefing and post-traumatic stress counseling quickly.
3) Work continuity: if the building is not usable or staff can’t get there, have alternate work sites if feasible. Prepare for compliance reporting such as OSHA, and other legal ramifications.
Encourage your employees to have their own emergency preparation plans in place in the event they can’t immediately get home for work or emergency reasons. This should include back-up plans for child and elder care, alternate methods of transportation and emergency contacts for family communications.
Once all plans are in place, schedule a practice drill and repeat it annually. Work with local fire and law enforcement so they can review your plans, and include other agencies as necessary such as environmental agencies where a manufacturing facility is involved.
Your EAP contact can provide a wealth of information on workplace violence and disaster planning. Be sure to include him or her early on in the process. Another valuable resource is the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). You can search their website for information on crisis management.
HR’s strategic role in providing leadership and ensuring programs and processes are in place is vital in crisis management for any organization. If you don’t have any plan in place, set up some time soon to brainstorm ideas for crisis management to help protect your employees, customers and business.