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5 Ways to Support Employees in the Event of the Unthinkable

We talked a lot about Paris in my office today; I bet you and your co-workers did too. One of my colleagues relayed a story--his neighbor is flying to Germany today on business. The advice of his employer? An email was sent out last night to those travelling internationally this week instructing them to stay in their hotels and avoid carrying a lot of cash.

"That's it?? That's the advice for your workers?" my colleague asked, incredulous. "How about telling your employees that you care about their wellbeing and to stay home if they feel unsafe?"  

My colleague's comments reminded me of some of the papers I've written following major natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina in particular, on the topic of disaster planning and employer responsiveness. But even with most natural disasters, we have some semblance of forewarning. There is time to prepare mentally and physically; we have the opportunity to gather together to brace ourselves and one another. One of the most insidious things about terrorist attacks is that they occur at our most vulnerable times and places. We are utterly unprepared in every way.

So what (if anything) is there to say to our employees about this constant threat? What can we truly do to protect our employees, and if we acknowledge that we cannot protect them, how do we at least provide structure and support that may help them should the unthinkable occur? Beyond the standard corporate disaster plan points, here are a few suggestions:

Connect with the community

Make sure that in every single location in which your organization does business a local connection has been established, no exceptions. Employees should be very familiar with the community and the community with them. This can be achieved through community volunteerism, partnering with local schools to provide tutoring or mentoring, etc. Get creative. If your employees have genuine connections in the communities in which they live and work, their trusted networks of support will be much deeper and broader should they need to reach out to offer or accept help in a time of crisis. Also, make some decisions at each location about how and what your company and employees are reasonably prepared to do to help in a local recovery effort and relay that information to local authorities.

Choose a meeting place

Designate a rendezvous location for every business site across your organization so that in the event of a communications/power failure, employees know where to go to connect with one another in the hours and days following an event. A pre-determined gathering place--a city park, a local library, whatever works--can go a long way in assuaging anxiety and keeping miscommunication to a minimum in the aftermath of a calamity.

Leverage social media to keep your team connected

Establish an emergency hashtag for your company today so that your employees can keep track of what is happening and share information and updates in real-time should the need arise. We all saw this past weekend the power of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms in working as a true global village to share information about the welfare and whereabouts of others.  If your organization has yet to establish a Facebook page or other social media community, do it today. Do it now.

Document it and share it

A corporate emergency response plan does your employees no good if no one is aware of it. Your crisis communication plan should detail how your organization plans to communicate with employees, local authorities, customers and others during and after an event. Get it posted to your intranet, internal social media network, whatever the communication hub for your culture may be so that employees have clear information about when, if, and how they are expected to report to work following an emergency.

Consider investing in security

Depending on the industry, some organizations have their security game on-point and on autopilot--its part of the culture and no one gives it a second thought. But some organizations don't have on-site security at all. For those that don't, maybe it's time to assess the level of security your work sites might need. Not every company may need security personnel, but it may be a worthwhile safety measure to consider. Adding the presence of on-site security to the workplace may help workers feel less anxious about their safety while at work. 

Lorrie Lykins is i4cp's managing editor and director of research services

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