This article was updated on July 17, 2018.
HR leadership needs to play a critical role in crisis recovery for large organizations. This is especially true as globalization and remote workforces are no longer the exception but the rule. Hurricane Sandy, which battered the Middle Atlantic United States in 2012, and the floods in Chennai, Southern India, in 2015, the worst seen in the region in 100 years, both impacted millions of individuals and caused business disruption for weeks. No one could have predicted the catastrophic damage of either of these natural disasters, and they serve as strong reminders of the necessity of having a plan ready to deploy in an emergency.
When the Crisis Occurs
Crisis recovery for large organizations is not limited to extreme weather situations. The Takata airbag recall and hoverboards catching fire are just two examples; however, weather scenarios can create the largest and broadest situations anywhere in the world. For example, in 2007, the Jet Blue airlines winter storm shutdown led to the cancellation of 1,000 flights and a huge customer backlash, as reported by The New York Times.
After the storm, Jet Blue's Chairman Daved Neeleman immediately took responsibility. David had no control over Mother Nature; however, making a decision to shut down operations across the entire United states and literally stranding thousands of travelers was ultimately his. The failure of their reservation system to be able to handle the over 130,000 travelers they were servicing led to a system shutdown, and several days past until the airline was fully operational again.
Jet Blue had to work hard to regain customer trust. As a result of their poor customer experience, the organization created a Customer Bill of Rights, the first of its kind in the industry and a statement of a business willing to not only take responsibility for its action, but promising customers what it will do if they don't.
As a result of this catastrophic situation, Jet Blue now practices for the unexpected. Home office and field staff are cross-trained to assist reservations in handling overflow from flight cancellations. They have a playbook to adjust to a variety of potential situations.
What Can HR Do to Help?
To get ahead of situations like these, HR needs to work directly with management to create a crisis plan to reach out to each and every employee in all locations to keep them informed, ensure their safety and provide temporary provisions to work during an unforeseen crises.
HR needs to start with a communication plan that provides regional check-ins and feeds into a centralized control center to account for all employees. HR should create regularly updated lists and emergency contacts, which in turn can be disseminated to regional management.
Next, organizations need to distribute a short emergency document or plan to every employee with basic instructions including comprehensive contact and protocol instructions in the case of a crisis. Setting up an 800 phone number along with email contacts and assigning individuals to control the flow of information is critical. Additionally, information that deals with naturally occurring weather issues (tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, etc.) is also advised. Your organization's marketing and public relations teams can serve as a great partner in developing and executing materials.
Realizing that phone and internet may be down, there should be contingency information for government agencies that provide shelter and point of contact in more rural or underdeveloped regions.
HR can work with their respective internal departments to create materials and training so every employee has information available at all times. Holding regular meetings to practice and review "what to do" is also crucial to make sure that employees know their roles in a crisis.
Redundancy Is Key
Sometimes the most obvious needs for an emergency are overlooked, so a critical area of focus during a crisis is having data backed up and available so business continuity is uninterrupted. Cross training, redundant call centers and temporary workspaces should also all be vital components of your crisis recovery strategy.
By taking these steps and creating an action plan with roles and responsibilities, HR leadership can contribute significantly to maintaining business continuity. Preparing for a crisis before it happens and having an immediate response at the ready when it does, ensures that things run smoothly when the unexpected happens.