In any business, people are your most important asset. As a manager or business owner, it is your responsibility to keep your staff safe, connected, and informed before, during, and after a hurricane.

Preparing employees for what to expect when a hurricane strikes is a vital part of any hurricane plan. As someone who has worked with hurricane-affected businesses for almost four decades, I understand that most people cannot comprehend the damage a hurricane can do to a community.

Even a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 74–95 mph can cause significant business interruptions. I’ve seen power outages last as long as four weeks. If your employees are not prepared to take care of themselves for a week or two, they will not be able to return to work.

This is one reason you should make staff preparedness a top priority before every hurricane season. Well-educated employees will know how to prepare for and how to take care of themselves in the aftermath of a hurricane.

With Hurricane Ian headed to Florida and other parts of the east coast, now is a good time to consider how well your current hurricane plan prepares your employees. Part of this plan should involve having a conversation with your staff to ensure they understand company procedures and are equipped to manage if a storm disrupts normal work routines.

Have a Plan for Locating and Reaching Employees

Identify which personnel are required to be on-site in the days before and after a hurricane, as well as which staff members are essential to business function. Be sure to communicate areas of accountability and responsibility to these key employees. Keep in mind that operations may need to adjust or decrease, depending on the severity of the impact to employees.

With today’s highly mobile workforce, safeguarding your employees isn’t always easy. You should have information on where every employee lives so they can be reached as soon as possible. This also means knowing which employees travel and what their schedules are. If you have remote workers, you should know where they are at any given time of their shift.

Working out a way to reach all your employees after a storm is essential. Because you can’t always depend on cell phones or landlines working, you will have to find other ways to communicate. We discuss examples of how some businesses do this in part two of our preparedness series, planning for the recovery phase of a hurricane.

Be Aware of Employment Laws

A number of employment laws are implicated when a hurricane strikes. HR departments and small business owners should be aware of what these are and communicate them to staff. For example, according to American law, maintenance workers who remain on premises during a storm to deal with emergency repairs must be compensated even if they perform no work, as they may not be free to leave. Employers should also avoid having employees “volunteer” to assist during an emergency, especially if those duties benefit the company or are regularly performed by employees.

A full day’s absence caused by transportation difficulties during weather emergencies, if the employer is open for business, is considered an absence for personal reasons in America. However, a deduction from salary for less than a full day’s absence is not permitted.

Whether your employees are at home or work, there will be moments of downtime before, during and after a hurricane. Discuss with your staff ways to ease boredom at work such as during periods of waiting for power and other services to start. You might want to have games or books in the office. Consider other ways to lighten the atmosphere during what can be a frightening and stressful situation. Providing food and snacks can also make it easier for your staff to work in the wake of a hurricane.

Finally, remember that your employees are people. Allow them to focus on their families and homes first before they take on the challenge of maintaining the business. Once they know their families and homes are secure, they will do the same for your business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Hebert

Chris Hebert is StormGeo’s lead hurricane forecaster and manager of the TropicsWatch team. With 40 years’ experience and a true passion for forecasting hurricanes, Hebert aims to provide not only accurate tropical weather information but also decision guidance support through all phases of a client’s response to a hurricane.

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