Natural Disasters Highlight Necessity of Disaster Preparedness in the Workplace

Be Prepared for When Disaster Strikes

Suddenly the highway outside the window at work begins to flap like a towel drying in the wind, pictures begin toppling forward to the floor, and the once-stable office has been transformed into a sandcastle at high tide—are you prepared?

The recent deadly tornadoes across the US and on-going events in Japan have highlighted the pressing need for disaster preparedness in the workplace. Many businesses are directly affected through actual physical damage in the event of an earthquake, tornado, tsunami or other natural disaster, and can also be adversely affected by employees having family members or friends who have been directly affected by the traumatic event. These types of emergency situations can also be the result of flu, outbreak, threats, violence, terrorism, and any kind of other major internal or external disaster. Due to the unpredictability of these tragic occurrences, commandeering a precise, effective response plan is vital to maintaining the safety of employees, minimizing damage to company assets, and ensuring that the show will go on.

The first step to any successful preparation plan is simple—start with the basics. Is there any kind of company plan currently in place in case of disaster? If so, when was the last time it was reviewed or revisited for employees? Whether updating a plan or creating one for the first time, it is always a good idea to brush up on the latest tips and guidelines from helpful resources such as the Red Cross and FEMA’s disaster preparedness website.

To prepare for an immediate threat such as a tornado, earthquake or other proximal natural disaster the safest area of the office structure or its immediate surrounding area must be identified and ingrained into the memories of every employee. Having the immediate comfort of a safe area to immediately retreat to in case of disaster can contribute greatly to the overall calm and demeanor of employees making order and direction much more feasible. To see the positive effects of this preparatory step look no further than the Japan earthquake. Japan is about as good at preparing for disaster as they are at building robots. In fact, Japan celebrates Disaster Prevention Day every September 1st, honoring the Japanese earthquake of 1923 that claimed the lives of over 100,000 Japanese with a fire drill to start the school day for all the school children of Japan. Losing 10,000 lives in Japan is not only tragic, but is nearly unfathomable. However, given the population density of the tiny volcanic island along with the magnitude of the earthquake, the Japanese must be applauded for their disaster preparation and courageous damage control.

Other steps for disaster preparation include proper communication to employees and making sure everyone has the tools necessary to be prepared to work together in case of crisis. Start by having a meeting focused around the topic of disaster preparedness where all of the important information can be disseminated to the entire workforce. Many companies in the US are even beginning to have first responders attend these meetings with employees to bring them together and get a better understanding of how to respond and raising disaster awareness. At these meetings topics such as where the emergency supplies are located, where the office safe area can be found, and how to respond to each kind of respective emergency can be covered. One important idea should resonate as a theme to the discussion of how to respond to emergency situations—always stay calm. Make sure that all employees know that no matter what the
circumstance panic will only increase the difficulty of the situational burden on the team. If an employee begins to panic offer reassurance and keep conversations in an optimistic tone as to not worry them further.

Many employers are also turning to services offered by employer assistance programs (EAP) to address disaster preparedness, and take some of the pressure off employer’s workload so they can focus on business as usual. ACI Specialty Benefits, a top ten EAP, offers Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD) that help mitigate post-traumatic stress symptoms for all employees, and also offers a plethora of counseling services, housing placement assistance, and a multitude of crucial resources to support employers in the event of a disaster.

Avoiding disaster is often not a choice, but with the proper preparation and communication you can be confident your business is ready for when it strikes.

Dr. Ann D. Clark is CEO and Founder of ACI Specialty Benefits, a Top 10 EAP and leading provider of student assistance programs, wellness, concierge and work/life services. A best-selling author, Dr. Clark is one of the original Certified Employee Assistance Professionals (CEAP) and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

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