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8 Ways HR Departments Can Prepare for Natural Disasters

Tips to be prepared for in the event of an emergency

Aimie Ye

by Aimie Ye - November 27th, 2022


With record snowfall this past winter across New York, and dangerous conditions in many Midwest states due to snowstorms, many HR professionals have been asked to craft an emergency plan for their companies. Whether they're facing blizzards, earthquakes, or extreme temperatures, companies need a way to ensure their employee's safety. It's up to employers to make sure their workers are taken care of! Developing a plan now is essential for maintaining safe working conditions, as nature always has a way of throwing us curveballs.

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Tips for HR to Prepare for Natural Disasters

1. Know the Risks In Your Area

Risks vary widely depending on the region in which your business is located. The first step in preparing for potential disasters is to identify the types of natural disasters that could impact your area, including floods, winter storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, etc.

The U.S. Geological Survey offers a Natural Hazard Map with updates on earthquakes, landslides, floods, and storms, which can be a helpful resource for leadership. Local weather sites are also a great way to stay updated on current and future weather patterns in your area.

We encourage employees to be honest about their abilities in extreme weather. If an employee doesn't feel comfortable commuting during a storm, there should be no pressure or judgment. If an employee chooses to work from home, their manager and team should be prepared to adjust their responsibilities accordingly.

Linda Shaffer
Chief People Operations Officer at Checkr

2. Prepare a Work Contingency Plan

As you prepare for any natural disaster, be sure you understand what should happen if your employees can’t travel to work, are offline, or can’t clock in. Though the confirmation of your employees’ safety comes first, it’s crucial to have a plan in place in order to keep the business running as smoothly as possible. You should have clear policies around evacuation, communication, and running payroll in the event of a natural disaster, among other things.

3. Train Your Team

Offer training for employees around evacuation and communication plans. Regardless of the size of your organization, consider implementing a core emergency planning team, as well as designating teams to execute emergency action plans. Though every team member should be well-versed on how to act when a natural disaster strikes, be especially certain that your emergency planning team is familiar with protocols, policies, procedures, and how to access kits and resources. Cross-training is also imperative in the event that certain team members will be offline.

4. Create a Communications Plan

During or after a disaster, it may be extremely difficult to communicate with your team. Whether it’s due to the loss of power, cell service, or even relocation, creating an evacuation and communication plan ahead of time can help ensure that everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency.

  • Make sure you can contact your employees. Have a digital team directory on hand, so you can make phone calls or delegate department heads to do so. Having a digital team directory embedded in your HR software is a great way to stay organized with all of your team members.

  • Plan to lose service or power. A standard chat application like Slack or Teams will likely not get the job done if your team loses WiFi, power, etc. We’ve found that SMS- text messages may be your best bet, even when cell service is spotty. Additionally, you can explore adding a toll-free check-in phone number on your site for your employees to call from any location.

  • Create a template for communication with vendors or clients. In addition to keeping your team in the loop, you’ll want to make sure external vendors and clients are alerted to your business’s situation. Creating an email or document template ahead of time to send to your clients in the case of an emergency can be a huge time saver.

  • Consider adopting an alert notification system specifically designed to help businesses during emergencies.

Communication between home and work must be maintained so that everyone is aware of how the weather is progressing and any additional safety precautions that may be taken.

Grace He
People & Culture Director at

5. Stay Up-To-Date With Job Protection Regulations

As you prepare for a natural disaster, it’s imperative to understand any employment laws that pertain. Employees may need time to recover from personal losses, trauma, or other unforeseen circumstances. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your employees may be offered protections to take time off without putting job security at risk. Keeping up-to-date with regulations not only protects the business but also gives employees time to recover. Having a certified HR advisor can point you in the right direction with best practices and compliance questions. It may also be beneficial to have sophisticated leave-tracking capabilities within your HR software for FMLA-related leave.

6. Offer Employee Assistance

Your employees are your most valuable assets, and you should make that clear. Identify opportunities, assistance programs, or budget that you may be able to offer to employees who are affected by the natural disaster. Whether it’s property damage, injuries, or the loss of a loved one, let your employees know that they are supported and that they can lean on you.

Your leadership team can also quickly mobilize to put together a relief fund to help anyone that experienced a setback and could use the help. If you do plan to work with executive leadership on a relief fund, make sure you have an easy way to manage claims and HR workflows for employees.

To cover all bases, make a checklist of items employees need to have done or have on hand to ensure they are safe in case of a power outage and are stuck at home during a snowstorm. You can include canned food, potable water, battery-powered heaters, thick winter blankets and clothing, a first aid kit, and portable chargers for phones and necessary electronic devices.

Kevin Huang
Founder & CEO at Ambient Home US

7. Digitize Your Records

Make sure you have digital copies of personal records prepared. With natural disasters often come mud, water, fire, and other elements that could make it extremely difficult to access physical records. HR should have digital records and employee paperwork stored in a secure, online location in the case of an emergency.

Support may also come in the form of flexible leave policies, flexible work schedules, and remote work arrangements. As you review your existing disaster preparedness plan, it may be helpful to confirm that your leave policies and work schedule policies cover the topic of natural disasters/emergencies. If not, it is recommended that you make adjustments to these policies for clarity, and for your employees to understand that their safety is the top priority.

8. Confirm Medical Insurance Coverage and Access for Employees.

After a natural disaster, your employees may need to refer to their medical insurance to help recover. Investing in digital benefits administration software can help ensure that your employees have 24/7 access to their benefits information, member IDs, and insurance contact information. Make sure your employees are well-versed on how to access all of their benefits information, and what to do if they need to use benefits outside of their coverage area. Employee assistance programs are also often available through health insurance benefits.

How Can GoCo Help With Disaster Preparedness?

The general rule of thumb for natural disaster preparedness is to make everything accessible — anytime and anywhere. The risk of losing important paper documents, benefits information, or even contact with your employees is far too high. With that being said, implementing an all-in-one HR software platform like GoCo could prove to be extremely useful in times of emergency.

  • Digital team directory at your fingertips. The GoCo software allows team members and HR managers to easily access team directories and contact information. You can access contact information and check in with your employees via phone or email.

  • No disruption to benefits or insurance. Consolidated HR platforms like GoCo offer 100% online employee benefits, which means that employees can access their member ID cards, benefits information, and insurance hotlines by themselves.

  • Update disaster policies, work policies, and leave policies in seconds. As you prepare for future natural disasters, you’ll want to make sure all of your policies cover this topic. Advanced document management systems like GoCo allow you to update or create any document, add custom fields, send them out for employee acknowledgment, and store collected data in the platform. This is crucial for keeping your employees in the loop on best practices and any company policies.

  • All of your HR processes are completely digital. The last thing HR needs to deal with during a natural disaster is a pile of paper or a manual process. With everything housed in the cloud, HR managers can manage all of their employee information, onboarding, benefits, payroll, and timesheets in a single location, on a computer, tablet, or mobile device.

Final Thoughts

It’s essential for HR departments to prepare for natural disasters ahead of time. By understanding the risks associated with their organization’s location, creating evacuation and communication plans, and training employees on disaster preparedness, HR departments can ensure that their business is ready for anything Mother Nature throws its way! Following these tips will provide peace of mind to your team, letting them know you are doing everything you can do to ensure safety now and tomorrow!