Michael Hurricane NOAA

When Disaster Strikes, Are You Ready or Not?

Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, storm, flood, health crisis, fire, earthquake, cybercrime, or terrorist attack, your business should have a plan for dealing with catastrophes—a lack of preparedness can completely disrupt your business and even cause you to lose clients.

Who is responsible for this gigantic task?

Risk management and safety professionals are often viewed as the sole architects of disaster planning. However, the human resource function also plays a central role.

HR’s Role in Disaster Preparedness 

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act requires that employers provide employees with a safe and healthy work environment. HR is responsible for helping the organization meet the OSH Act’s standards, and for ensuring that the organization returns to form as quickly as possible in the event of a disaster.

When the impact of a disaster is widespread, community leaders are concerned with public safety—not with protecting a business’ assets or making sure the business quickly gets back on its feet.

The HR department, however, is concerned with the organization’s people—who are essential assets, and the lifeline of any successful business. So, when disaster strikes, HR must have a plan ready for safeguarding those assets and ensuring business continuity.

When developing a disaster recovery plan, HR must address a number of key areas, including staffing management, payroll and employee benefits.

Staffing Management

Determine which employees must report to work when a disaster occurs. These employees are called essential personnel, whose presence is typically required during emergencies, no matter the conditions. Essential personnel may include information technology employees, healthcare and public safety workers.

Keep in mind that some employees may not be able to travel to the worksite for awhile, which is why a contingency plan is vital. You may need to:

  • Implement alternative work schedules, such as job-sharing and nontraditional work hours.
  • Provide special transportation services to help employees reach the job site.
  • Allow telecommuting, if the worksite is closed.
  • Bring in temporary workers via a staffing agency.

Be ready to adjust your staffing procedures as the situation dictates. For instance, you may have to put off hiring new workers for now. Or, you might need to hire new people right away.


Devise a way for payroll to be processed when calamities occur. If you’re administering payroll in-house, now is the time to decide whether you’re better off partnering with a payroll service provider, who can make sure your employees are paid accurately and on time during emergency and non-emergency periods. The provider can also take care of your compliance obligations, such as payroll tax deposits and filings.

Ideally, choose a provider that offers cloud-based payroll services, as the system comes with anywhere, anytime access—which is essential when disasters hit.

Employee Benefits

Areas to consider include:

  • How paid and unpaid leave will be handled during emergencies
  • Whether any benefit plans will be discontinued if business operations are suspended
  • How benefit changes will be communicated to employees

Disaster planning is a complex endeavor, with varied attributes. (We’ve only scratched the surface.). There’s also:

  • Having a data backup strategy
  • Enlisting the aid of volunteers
  • Offering employee assistance
  • Getting buy-in from leaders within your organization
  • Complying with federal reporting requirements, such as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act
  • Developing internal communication strategies
  • Training employees on disaster preparedness

The good news is that there’s an abundance of resources available to employers, both online and on the ground. A good place to start is Ready.gov—which was formed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help business leaders prepare for emergencies.