It is amazing that I often have to include a word like "negligent" to get attention for something that should be the first responsibility of any manager or executive. There is no company without employees yet, somehow, the employee often falls to a relatively low level when it comes to ensuring the survival of a firm, someplace after revenue and competitive positioning. Without the employee, you are out of business more assuredly than any other exposure the firm is likely to have.
I've held corporate security jobs, and one of the first software products I had some responsibility for was an enterprise storage management offering from IBM. In both cases, I was surprised how little focus was put on disaster preparedness. It was a fact of life then, as it is now, that most still don't properly back up their PCs and that many companies, even if they have disaster preparedness programs, don't test them regularly or extend them to their employees. I wonder how many have even looked at some of the resources that are available now? Even Homeland Security is active in providing help, but it only works if you look for it.
For a lot of folks in California right now, that is a serious problem as companies are losing track of employees. Even if they can get in operation, it will be years until the employees are no longer heavily distracted by their own personal recovery efforts.
I'm struck by these hard walls that seem to exist in firms and imply separation where separation doesn't actually exist. For instance, we make it clear that an employee's personal stuff is not the company's responsibility. But if an employee's identity is stolen, if their home is lost, if their financial records are destroyed, much like it is when they get ill, their productivity can be virtually destroyed as they naturally focus on what is for all of us is more important than the job. Yet while we supply health insurance, we rarely are thorough enough with regard to disaster preparedness programs to make sure the employee is personally prepared for a disaster.
The Selfish Reasons to Ensure Employee Personal Well Being
In an enterprise, a disaster is very likely. The enterprise crosses geographies and while the incidence of disaster is slight locally, when the entire world is factored in, a major problem is not only certain, it is a recurring event.
The simple steps of having employee contact information, ensuring someone calls and makes sure the employee is safe, ensuring that medical information is readily available if needed, and ensuring that evacuation plans are in place are surprisingly often not even considered when a disaster gives warning let alone when, like the California fires, it comes with little or no warning.
In California, many employees are displaced. Without help, they won't be able to get back to work even if the plant is still standing. Many companies probably believe, with a sigh of relief, that they are still in business. They'll be surprised to find out that they are effectively out of business until they can get those employees back. And, unless the employees call in, they even won't know how bad this is until they try to open again for business.
Once these firms realize their plight, there will be a rush for things like mobile homes, trailers, remote offices and other critical resources. The firms that had plans will get the first available and those that don't will be left wishing they had acted in a more timely manner. For those of us that watched the FEMA disaster during Katrina, one of the lessons was that everything failed; FEMA was only a small part of the overall problem. Yet I'll bet few companies put in place plans that could even supplement FEMA, let alone step in and ensure the survival of the firm regardless of any government program.
I often wonder if some executives think their responsibility stops when they can blame someone else and don't realize that if the firm is out of business they don't get paid regardless of who else is at fault. This isn't about blame, it isn't even about doing the right thing for employees; it is about ensuring the competitiveness and survival of the firm. Doing this right ensures your own job.
Next Page: Thinking Ahead
How much trouble would it be to determine where the safest places to live would be surrounding your plant locations and then communicate that to employees? If they have homes to return to or don't have to evacuate in the first place, wouldn't that be the easiest way to ensure the safety of those employees, and the company's survival? How about evacuation routes from those areas? And when was the last time you looked at evacuation routes from your plant site? Emergency housing availability? You may have hot sites and cold sites, but have you ensured the employees can actually get to them?
Would it really be all that much trouble to put together a program in which you discussed with your employees not only the firm's disaster programs, so they know what to do (when was the last time you even had a fire drill?), and shared with them a list of best practices for what to do to personally prepare for a disaster?
You could probably make available old scanners so they can scan their stuff; the amount of data isn't that great and getting group discounts to online services like Mozy (owned by EMC so you likely already have a relationship) would also help them protect their critical documents.
Even discussions between employees on how to protect pets (like making sure the pets are contained if an evacuation event is anticipated; tags have vet, cell phone and outside area contact numbers; you have a kennel for each pet for emergency transport; making sure each has an implanted chip in case the collar is lost) can make a huge difference and form the kind of support structures that could be invaluable not only in making the employee safer, but returning them quickly to full productivity.
We often do little more than give lip service to the concept that our employees are our greatest asset. At times like these when we are seeing folks in great distress, one way to express our concern is to make sure those we are responsible for are taken care of if something similar were to occur to our firms.
If you want additional motivation beyond simply doing what is right, getting this done effectively can dramatically increase employee loyalty, reduce incidences of employee theft and problems during a disaster, and increase the post-disaster competitiveness of a firm, all making the managers look vastly better to their executive management. You get few opportunities to truly stand up and show your competence where you can plan well in advance. Disaster preparedness is one; it makes sense to do it right on every level.