The role of human resources in workplace emergency management
- Published: Wednesday, 08 June 2022 08:54
Human resource (HR) leaders have a crucial role in workplace emergency management. They should support all stages of the emergency ‘incident lifecycle’ and need to take ownership of two critical steps says Todd Miller…
Emergency situations are chaotic by nature. However, organizations aren’t powerless when it comes to dealing with crises. HR leaders can help their colleagues respond well to workplace emergencies by managing the ‘incident lifecycle’ effectively.
What is the incident lifecycle?
The incident lifecycle consists of four key components:
For HR leaders who are less experienced with incident lifecycle management, the first step is understanding the role that Human Resources plays in workplace emergency management. HR is responsible for wellness initiatives as well as employee messaging including crisis communications. But managers can’t wait until the next disruption comes along to develop a plan. Workplace resilience to threats, weather incidents, and other crises begins in the mitigation and preparedness phases. This is where all the groundwork happens that will lead to workplace emergency management success.
HR professionals should understand the mitigation and preparedness stages in-depth and understand the role they play across the entire lifecycle. By supporting the four-phase process, HR leaders will be better able to support efforts, preserve business continuity during adverse events, and keep company employees safe. Efforts upfront by HR teams can also accelerate the recovery process and increase organizational resilience moving forward.
For the sake of this article, we will focus on the first two steps - mitigation and preparedness – which are often best spearheaded by HR professionals.
Mitigation is essential
The mitigation stage, especially, is where HR teams can make a significant difference. Strong mitigation is core for a robust emergency response strategy and HR personnel tend to be well-versed on strategy, training solutions, and messaging.
The goal of the mitigation stage is to lessen the effects of emergencies or to prevent them from occurring altogether. Mitigation happens during ‘business as usual’ times, not when crises are unfolding. Activities in the mitigation stage are designed to provide structure, processes, and skills that will matter most when incidents arise.
Key mitigation activities include:
- Analyzing past events and organizational responses
- Conducting risk assessments
- Applying insights to planning and preparedness efforts
- Disseminating information to the organization (more on this shortly).
The mitigation stage should consider an all-hazards approach including those labeled as outliers. These events often have the highest impact and most significant long-term consequences. Examples of outlier events include cyber attacks, on-site shootings, severe weather events, pandemics, and other low-occurrence events that seriously impact or suspend work operations.
The tendency for many HR teams is to discount these situations as one-off rarities. Although outlier events, by definition, are unlikely to occur, HR leaders should seize opportunities to improve organizational awareness, planning, and record-keeping when these incidents occur onsite or elsewhere in the world. Companies should be prepared for any type of emergency and committed to developing and practicing a well-defined plan. HR personnel cull insights from their own workplace history as well as from other settings so that their company crisis communications program is as robust as possible.
After analyzing previous incidents and identifying areas of risk, HR teams must then communicate their findings with the broader organization to optimize the incident lifecycle and minimize future consequences.
The preparedness stage is distinct yet related to the mitigation stage. The preparedness stage is about articulating plans, setting recovery goals, building crisis management teams, and implementing training exercises. This phase draws on the insights derived from the mitigation stage and results in a playbook that is applied during an emergency.
The preparedness stage is also where organizations adopt tools and communication channels that they can trust during a crisis. HR leaders, emergency responders, and employees must be able to share vital information and communicate back and forth when emergencies strike. Otherwise, chaos will overwhelm, and thoughtful plans will fall by the wayside.
Furthermore, HR departments need somewhere they can store organizational and employee data, such as phone numbers and floor layouts, which come into play during emergencies. Ideally, the storage of key information is in the same platform that allows for notification so that crisis teams can manage data-exchange and communications in lockstep. Today’s most sophisticated crisis management and emergency response platforms allow users to segment contact directories so that responders can tailor outbound messaging to various groups. This helps prevent alert fatigue and increases the chances of employees seeing and reacting to vital information.
Well-designed platforms also give recipients the opportunity to indicate how they want to be contacted in an emergency. Some people want to receive emails. Others want to be called or texted. Giving employees the option to choose their preferred communication method increases emergency response awareness and alleviates anxiety.
The takeaway here is that clear communication is paramount. HR leaders must be able to easily share their findings and support planning efforts. They also need tools that are specifically designed for emergency management. Mitigation and preparedness lose their value and don’t reach their full potential if people can’t cut through the noise and confusion during a crisis.
The goal is reliable workplace emergency management
Ideally, HR leaders will have one crisis communication and collaboration platform that helps them to seamlessly manage the incident lifecycle effectively. When everything is in one place, HR teams and responders can confidently engage with employees and ensure that workplace emergency response plans unfold as anticipated. Having one reliable solution also enhances the recovery process and helps HR leaders to facilitate a smooth transition back to business as usual.
The very same disciplines that are core to HR departments - organizational planning, educational training, and employee engagement - are essential for an outstanding workplace emergency management strategy. And today’s leading technology solutions have been designed so that HR teams can effectively fulfill their ‘people first’ role, while supporting all stages of the emergency incident lifecycle.
Todd Miller, SVP of Strategic Programs at Rave Mobile Safety.