HR Responsibilities for Disaster Management

Floods, fires, earthquakes and terror attacks are all unpredictable events that can affect your staff. 

We are also seeing increased levels of political and societal unrest, from tensions caused by the Governments’ handling of the pandemic, to rallies in the US and multiple political protests around the world.

Employers have a duty of care to protect staff who may unwittingly become a victim of a disaster or dangerous situation. Yes, it is rare. But it does happen – and what if it is your staff that are affected?  

With HR taking overall responsibility for employee wellbeing, HR professionals must be aware of the risks posed by disaster situations and take action to shape their organisation’s disaster management response so that their people are protected.. 

HR’s role in disaster management

So what are HR’s responsibilities for emergency preparedness and disaster management

Firstly, a senior HR representative should always be a member of the crisis management team within an organisation. As part of this strategic team, HR should be integral to the development and deployment of disaster contingency plans, ensuring a holistic approach is taken that includes both practical and personal safety concerns. 

Personnel Today has published advice on what a contingency plan should cover and advises that you include:

  • alerting the emergency services
  • evacuating the premises
  • providing first aid
  • identifying casualties and missing employees
  • considering all employees’ health and safety needs
  • how to communicate with staff on next steps
  • limiting damage to property and equipment
  • informing insurance companies
  • redirecting communications if office locations have been compromised
  • securing the premises
  • plans for supporting staff after the disaster, including the provision of counselling where appropriate

The importance of risk assessments

Conducting risk assessments is a key part of disaster contingency planning as they enable you to identify risks and put measures in place in advance to deal with emergency situations should they occur. 

Part of conducting risk assessments for disaster management is understanding the environment and risk profile of your organisation and employees. What are the likely risks of natural disasters and terror attacks in your locations? Do you have staff who are working remotely or posted overseas? Are staff operating in areas of political unrest? Businesses located in capital cities or known ‘at risk’ areas can be at increased danger from terrorism, whereas organisations in Australia, for example, may be more vulnerable to disruption due to forest fires. Your risk assessments should reflect these different social, environmental and geographical profiles. 

What should a personnel-focused risk assessment contain?

When considering the risks posed to staff from major incidents, your crisis response risk assessment should contain: 

  • The specific hazards identified in your location(s)
  • Who might be harmed and how – including remote, home based and overseas workers 
  • The procedures already in place to prevent harm – for example, first aid training 
  • Any action you will take to further reduce risk – such as implementing a specific crisis management solution 
  • The response procedures you will take in the event of an emergency

It is also useful to include on your written report who carried out the risk assessment, the date it was carried out, the date of any next steps and when the next review is due.

Communication with employees

Communication of your disaster management plans is important to ensure everyone within the business is aware of their roles and what is expected of them in the event of an emergency.  

But what about communication during and immediately after an incident?

One of the biggest communication challenges HR can face in the wake of a disaster is locating and subsequently assessing the safety status of staff. By nature a disaster is chaotic, and especially for large organisations with disparate staff, it can be hard to establish if any of your employees have been harmed or otherwise affected. 

Identifying casualties and missing employees will form part of your contingency plan – but in reality how will you achieve this? Diaries can change last minute, staff have their phones off or are in a different time zone to the crisis team who are trying to contact them. To tackle this challenge, organisations are now looking toward specialist solutions that can do this task for them and locate and communicate with staff in an emergency.

Are our people safe? 

Comprising a crisis response app and online hub, IncidentEye allows organisations to quickly identify who is in the vicinity of an incident. Managers can prompt the affected employees to specify whether they are safe or in danger. Unlike traditional methods of manually calling each employee, IncidentEye allows you to monitor large teams, making the process quicker and more effective. 

Communications can then be sent to employees depending on their location or safety status, advising them on what to do or updating them on the situation. Employee safety status can be viewed and acted on in real time, allowing you to immediately answer HR’s most important question: ‘are our people safe?’

Find out more about how IncidentEye


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