Planning for Disasters

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    Disasters can be life-changing and stressful; however, avoiding the topic doesn’t eliminate the stress or the possibility of a disaster occurring.  Whether a medical emergency or severe weather, we know that some disasters are unavoidable.  The best defense in these situations is having compliant policies in place and ensuring your staff is well-trained on them.

    What types of policies should be considered?  Below is a high-level review of the plans you’ll want in place to help protect you and your employees both when a disaster occurs and during the aftermath.  If you have any questions, please call our team at 210-495-8474 or email us at <[email protected]>.




    Workplace emergencies are caused by a variety of factors: a fire in the building, severe weather, or even a hostile employee.  While these situations are rare, it’s important to be prepared with an Disaster Recovery Plan.  An Emergency Planning Team, composed of managers or staff from all of your teams, can help with developing plans and identifying the best ways to train employees.  An Evacuation Plan should be included, but the Disaster Recovery Plan should comprise much more than evacuations.

    Consider the example of bad weather forcing an office closure:

    • Chain of Command: Who makes the decision that the office is closed? What happens if that person is not available? Who will communicate the decisions to employees?
    • Emergency Notification System: How is the closure communicated to employees? This system could be as simple as a phone tree or text message distribution list.
    • Evacuation Routes and Post-Evacuation Protocol: How should employees leave the workplace during a disaster? Are there designated safe routes or safe areas to wait for assistance? Should employees check in with a supervisor once they’ve evacuated?
    • Team Leader Protocols: Are any employees assigned to stay behind to shut down operations? Who are these employees?Do they have any special safety procedures to follow?


    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a guide called How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations, which is available here: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3088.pdf.  This resource outlines best practices on how to develop policies that will enable your company to be prepared in the event of an emergency.



    Your Disaster Recovery Plan should include some essential components:

    • Introduction
      General company information (like a product/service overview and the number of staff and clients), the objective of the plan (such as “ensuring the physical safety of all employees”), and any key information that may be important to point out, such as where contact information is saved.
    • Team
      List of the members of the Emergency Planning Team and their roles, an explanation of how the team was selected, and the process for replacing team members and evaluating the plan on an ongoing basis.
    • Risk Assessment
      Overview of key risks that the business is exposed to due to industry, operations, or other internal/external factors.Risks can range from a breach of sensitive information to sabotage to acts of nature.
    • Risk Management
      Explanation of actions the company will take to minimize its risk exposure, including items ranging from the building alarm system to insurance coverage to having an established procedure.
    • Personnel
      Where to find contact information for employees and how that information will be kept up to date, the procedure for authorizing the disaster recovery actions, and alternate means of communicating if standard means are not available.
    • Floor Plans
      Where to find floor plans and explanation of required building maintenance activities related to safety, such as checking emergency lighting, keeping an inventory of emergency supplies (and where they are located), and conducting practice drills with employees.
    • Evacuation Procedures
      Where to find evacuation routes and meeting points for after an evacuation.
    • Precautionary Backup Measures
      As applicable, technology backup procedures that occur on an ongoing basis to protect client data.
    • Prioritized Functions
      The key business functions that must occur in the event of a business interruption, such as arranging for calls to be forwarded or contacting an insurance company.
    • Procedures
      How company policies and procedures are recorded, backed up, and accessible.
    • Directory
      Where to find a directory of current contacts, vendors, and suppliers and how this directory is maintained.
    • Alternate Worksite
      Where employees will report to work if the standard office is not available and how access to the alternate worksite will be granted.
    • Alternate Communications
      How phone calls will be forwarded to the alternate worksite, how clients will be notified of the plan, how clients can contact the company, and how mail will be managed.
    • Alternate Communications and Decision Tree
      Decision tree explaining how decisions on communication modes or other key issues will be made.
    • Equipment and Resources
      Where key materials and documents are located, how important or confidential information is backed up, how to access resources that may be needed during a recovery period, how repairs would be managed, and how the Disaster Recovery Plan will be available.
    • Plan Communication
      How staff are trained on the plan and instructed to store the plan for future reference.
    • Plan Monitoring
      ​How the plan will be maintained to ensure that it is strengthened on an ongoing basis.



    Pay and Leave

    Both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provide requirements for how employees are treated during a natural disaster.  This means that exempt (salaried) employees must still be paid their wages even if their employer has temporarily closed, though the policy may state that employees are being paid from their paid time off balance.

    Non-exempt, or hourly, employees must be paid for any hours worked (including overtime), even if they are simply checking work-related emails at home.  Employers will need to consider how to maintain records if typical time reporting systems, such as a timeclock located at the office, are not accessible to employees.  Or employers may consider instituting a mandatory leave policy.

    Employees are only eligible for FMLA leave as a result of a natural disaster if they (or a close family member) experience an illness or injury that is considered a “serious health condition” and makes it impossible for the employee to do his or her job.  While employers will want to follow their leave policy consistently for all employees, they may find they have opportunities to be flexible to allow employees to take leave to manage any challenges that come up as a result of the disaster.



    Communication and training are of paramount importance.  Disasters are unexpected events and will cause stress.  Employees may make the wrong assumptions if they are not trained on what to expect.  Being prepared for a disaster means that you and your Emergency Planning Team have brainstormed about the possibilities, have addressed them in writing, and have trained your staff on your company’s policies.




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