Beyond Notification and Family Assistance
Organizations that make it a top priority to take care of people after an accident are to be commended for their commitment to humanitarian response. But there should also be a commitment to the organization. Clear policies to ensure viability during and after a response are critical to a company’s profitability and long-term survival.
In your quest to secure the welfare of the families affected by an accident, it is easy to lose sight of your organizational needs. While care of the families is indeed a primary priority, there are many other key elements to consider – elements critical to ensuring your organization can continue to function normally during a response and will return to normal business operations in a timely manner.
Your staff has Notification and Family Assistance covered. They have a clear understanding of the importance of timely notification; they have a compassionate and effective process for notifying family members and directing them to appropriate resources. Team members and team leads are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice with manuals and checklists in hand. They have a comprehensive understanding of their roles and the specific duties they are required to perform. You’ve tested the plan annually through drills and exercises, and you are certain that everyone is fully equipped and prepared to handle those critical hours and days following an accident. You are all set! Or are you?
Here are three key challenges and some suggestions for reducing organizational impacts.
The Challenge: Maintaining appropriate bench strength
The amount of human resources required to conduct response activities can significantly and quickly decrease a company’s intellectual and physical capabilities. The new workloads imposed on key employees can reduce their ability or even make it impossible for them to perform their normal duties. That can make it challenging to continue with normal operations during a response. The impact on productivity can adversely affect the bottom line.
Potential improvement strategy:
“Response Partners” (companies that provide emergency response support) can assign resources and expertise to assist you in notifying emergency contacts providing family assistance. Reducing your organization’s internal manpower requirements in this critical area may allow key personnel to remain focused on strategic business issues.
The Challenge: Increased call volumes
News of an accident may significantly increase incoming (and outgoing) call volume. Media inquiries will account for some of the increased volume but the family members and friends of employees inquiring about the safety of their loved ones will also contribute to the call volume.
Potential improvement strategies:
Direct media inquiries to a designated media contact or team, and brief all employees on this call flow process.
Establish a “call home” policy. Employees should contact their immediate family members in the aftermath of a significant event. Employees should reassure their families and ask them to refrain from calling the company. This will lessen the number of inbound calls and keep internal resources free to focus on the response and the day-to-day operations of the business.
The Challenge: A breakdown in internal communication and support
Beyond the victims and their families, your employees are the individuals most impacted by a serious accident or incident. They will be hungry for information. They can overwhelm the organization’s formal and informal communications channels.
Potential improvement strategies:
Keep employees informed about response efforts. Placing an emphasis on internal employee communications will foster an environment of inclusion and demonstrate to external stakeholders your commitment to taking care of your own employees. This will go a long way toward helping the company recover from a difficult event.
The emotional toll of response activities on staff can present obstacles to returning to normal operations after the formal response is concluded. Returning to “normal” in the wake of a significant event can be difficult. Significant emphasis should be placed on internal emotional support not just for those impacted, but also for all employees. Make RECOVERY a part of your plan.
When Does It End?
Many response activities can extend for months after the critical acute phase. Your company’s plan should include specific instructions about when your Emergency Operations Center can stand down. The plan should include provisions for supporting a smaller team of key support personnel who participate in and communicate about the investigation, litigation and long-term emotional support outside of the EOC response structure. Providing specific criteria or considerations for these activities will allow for a planned and effective long-term response while allowing critical areas of the business to return to normal.
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Emergency Response Plans (ERPs), however, are much more infrequently used in most organizations. When an abnormal situation disrupts your operation, is your team versed in their roles? Are they prepared to handle the emergency? Do they know what their responsibilities are?
The task of responding to an emergency is a daunting one. The organization has already experienced harm or a severe threat to its personnel, equipment and reputation because of the emergency, and a poorly run response can bring further damage to one or all those areas. Confronted with this pressure, the sense of urgency inherent with emergencies and an onslaught of new and rapidly changing information, nerves tend to run high, and acuity drops significantly.