Taking Care of Your Individuals in Disaster Response

It’s about time. Someone has admitted that DR/BCP writers have ignored the personal issues of employees following a disaster when creating business continuity plans, reviewing them, or just writing about them. Eric Krell wrote in Business Finance on November 6, 2012, an article entitled “Sandy Exposes the Human Side of Continuity.” I was alerted to the article by Phil Rothstein. Perhaps for Mr. Krell, Sandy was HIS first exposure to the human side of continuity. I’ve been teaching a unit called “Take Care of Your People” with my colleague Deidrich Towne, Jr. at DRJ conferences since 1999. We have presented lessons learned from our real experience of “people” issues associated with disaster response.

People, including employees, have routines that must be followed daily. Examples are taking care of children, pets, elderly parents, and farm animals. If you were to review Maslow’s hierarchy, you wouldn’t find work or career in the list of critical, life-sustaining functions. Let me give you an example. When putting together a strike plan, management employees were assigned duties requiring they work 6 days, 12-hour shifts. I got a call from a woman who said she couldn’t work that many hours in a week. I told her it was a “condition of employment” for management personnel. She responded, “Dr. Phelan, three months ago my husband and I adopted a child on the condition I would not work outside the home more than 35 hours per week. If I accept the strike assignment, I will lose my child.” I called her boss and set up a job-sharing arrangement to cover the duty.

There are human considerations that “trump” reporting to work. These are escalated when disaster strikes.

So, what’s a business continiuty planner to do? Some of you remember the exercise I used to illustrate what might happen when one is required to work under alternate or disaster recovery circumstances. Remember my asking you to sign your name while talking on the phone? Then I asked you to put the phone in the other hand and sign your name again. I observed three things.

1. You laughed, knowing that signing your name with the other hand would be difficult. This is an expression of fear or anxiety. This almost always happens when people are asked to work under alternate conditions. You can counter some of this with more exercises.

2. Your second signature was of lower quaility than your first. People working in disaster response mode will often not produce the same quality of work as they would under normal conditions. Plan for time to correct errors.

3. You took more time to sign your name with the other hand. Workers in alternate or disaster response mode will need more time to complete the same work they complete under normal circumstance. You can counter this with longer shifts and planning for backlog once the disaster response is over.

When workers have pressing needs at home, they will meet those needs before reporting to work. You need to plan for a certain percentage of your workforce to be unavailable in disaster response.

Most of all, you need to be compassionate toward those workers who have to make the difficult choice to “not report” because personal issues are more important. Find time to discuss this both in advance of a disaster and certainly during the debreif following a disaster.

I congratulate Eric Krell for admitting he had not considered this prior to Hurricane Sandy. He will going forward.


A Tiny Support from My Close friends – Gasoline Supply Chain in Northeast

We have all heard the news that gasoline is in short supply along the east coast, especially in New York City, New Jersey and the shore of Connecticut. But why is gasoline selling at 19 cents lower per gallon in Upstate New York?

Refineries and distributors of petroleum products have a supply chain that demands they “move” product and accept new deliveries. With fewer sales along the east coast due to power outages, the supply on hand must go somewhere else. No one can purchase normal amounts of gasoline in the nation’s most demanding market.

So, suppliers look for half-full tanks in outlets (gas stations) away from the coast. How far away, you ask. A FaceBook Friend yesterday told the story of driving from Poughkeepsie (75 miles north of NYC, up the Hudson River) to Red Hook (90 miles north of NYC) looking for a gas station that had gas. Yet, here in Central New York, gasoline has dropped from $ 4.04 per gallon to $ 3.85 per gallon. Why, because tanks in Central New York gas stations are taking the fuel that distributors can’t sell along the coast. In order to make room for these deliveries, gas stations have lowered the price per gallon to sell more gasoline. The Federal Government kills two birds with one stone. They supply free fuel using military resources that are not electricity dependent, and they support the oil companies by purchasing the excess fuel the oil companies have no way to distribute.

A Little Help from My Friends, please. Is there a DRJ reader with more knowledge than I about how the supply chain is adjusted to avoid losses when disaster strikes. Are there folks away from the affected area benefitting from the hardships of those who are victims?

Meanwhile, I’m off to the pumps before the shortage reaches Central New York.

Please post you comments to help my thinking.

Best regards,

Dr. Tom

Hurricane Sandy Update

Well, in theory the worst of Hurricane Sandy is now over. But for hundreds of thousands of people, the destruction left behind is a large barrier to getting over the storm’s destruction. With some people trying to get back to normal – battling traffic to get into Manhattan there are many many other people who are facing lost homes, missing belongings, the loss of businesses and many unanswered questions.

The East Coast is in the early days of realizing how much Sandy has really impacted folks. While some will be wringing their hands suggesting that people, government, and business should have been better prepared – there really are no clear cut answers. In coming days we will learn of communities, businesses, people and institutions that were prepared for such a disaster and we’ll hear and read stories of those that weren’t. Now is not a time for placing blame and pointing fingers – but rather a time to come together and support those that we can.

As we did earlier in the week, we’ve pulled together some links about Hurricane Sandy:

  • Status of services and transportation in New York City
  • Google’s crisis map
  • Gas shortages and traffic jams
  • A report on communities that were and weren’t prepared
  • Medical research losses mounting
  • Disaster relief funding
  • The New York City marathon will go on
  • Prepared but not prepared enough
The thoughts of everyone here at DRJ are with those who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy. 

Haiti Revisited – Hurricane Isaac’s Unnecessary Deaths

In 2010 following the earthquake devastation in Haiti, I
became concerned about the use of tarps and similar temporary shelter materials
because of the strong possibility of a hurricane later that same year. Haitians
were spared the any serious hurricanes in 2010 and 2011, but in 2012, they were
seriously impacted by Hurricane Isaac.

What I proposed in 2010 was to use ConEx containers for
temporary shelter, feeling that they were in abundance and more durable than
tarps.  I shared my thoughts at DRJ in
Orlando with Hector Fulgencio and Cole Emerson. 
Hector was familiar with ConEx containers from his work in the shipping
industry. Cole has vast experience in disaster response.  The consensus among us was that there was
indeed a surplus of containers in the U.S. and the military could offload them
and place them using heavy lift helicoptors. This would not necessitate using
the ports in Haiti which had been seriously damaged. Since ConEx containers are
transported via the sea, there would also be no need for the damaged and
overcrowded airport.

ConEx containers have been used successfully for shelter
both by the military and by the private sector. If properly ventilated and
secured to the ground, they are far more resilient than a temporary shelter
made from a tarp.

We tried to convince American authorities to create a
partnership wherein surplus ConEx containers could be donated in an appropriate
manner to provide their donors with a tax break while providing the American government
with a way to assist earthquake victims with far more secure should a hurricane
threaten Haiti.  We found no takers.

It was an idea.  Many
ideas fail to come to fruition due to securing the necessary “clout” or “compassion”
to make them work.  We are now seeing
what might have been different if this idea had provided more secure shelter to
victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Your thoughts?