By Rick Hoaglund, CEM, Director Crisis Management Services, Empathia / Black Swan Solutions
Partnerships Are Like Insurance
You have been notified that an active shooter has killed three people and wounded six others at one of your business’s facilities. It happened less than an hour ago. Employees followed their training, some hid, some ran, and two fought with the armed individual. Local law enforcement agencies have ordered a lock down of the surrounding neighborhood after the shooter ran away from the building. Police are searching the community. Most employees are safe.
You believe that for the most part your work is over and now it’s up to the police. Your written plan stops here.
The phone rings, the local and national news media would like a statement. Employee families are waiting outside the building, they are demanding to know what happened. The human resources team is turning to you for answers to employee questions, after all this is not their job. What do they say to the employees? Employees inside the building are afraid to leave. Phones are ringing off the hook and community members are asking for details. It is an unanticipated part of your business’s recovery.
The emergency plan covers what to do during the attack, in this case it does not cover the aftermath. Your business has no direction. The plan does not cover how to notify the families of those who are deceased or injured, it does not cover how to handle the hungry press, or how to provide long term care for the families. Your phone system is overwhelmed with community calls. What do you do?
Using In-house Solutions
It is the aftermath of events like these that can have a lasting impact on your business, its reputation, the relationship with employees, and the rapport with the local community. Not all businesses have the resources to handle these infrequent but high impact events. Trying to handle all of this in house would be expensive, labor intensive, and require special skills and equipment.
A wrong step during these critical few hours and days can dictate the survival of the business. The best solution is a trusted response partner or vendor. Someone who can complete the tasks that most companies are not equipped to handle. The organization’s plans may be carefully laid out and they may be complete, but without people, budget, and tools the plans will merely be words on paper that sound good but are not practical. Most organizations need assistance to take some of the burden off of their plate and into the hands of professionals.
To be fully transparent, I work for a company that assists organizations with the people aspect of an event. My company provides crisis management services using specially trained mental health experts for all sizes of companies, educational institutions and non-profits across the globe.
Types of Assistance
Most organizations do not have the expertise, trained staff, or equipment to set up a dedicated 24-hour incident response call center following an event. Incident response call centers commonly handle thousands of calls from employees, customers continued on page 25 and the general public following a crisis event.
Incident response call centers are used for information lines, like relocating employees during a wildfire or prior to a hurricane. They are also used to connect the organization to affected individuals following an event. The crisis call center staff provide information, emotional support and needs assessments. It’s not just taking in-bound calls, many require follow-up or individual outreach. It can take hundreds of crisis trained people and special equipment to open a call center and sustain it for a period of time. During the COVID pandemic our incident response call center was open for more than one year and was staffed with qualified mental health experts.
Providing professional critical incident support to the employees and the family members of those affected by the event is essential. It is more than a debrief or two. Providing ongoing care demonstrates the compassion and responsive nature of the business. It will go a long way in rebuilding trust with the employees and the community.
Other areas where a vendor may be necessary include:
- Cleaning the crisis event site.
- Gathering, cleaning, and distributing the personal items left behind.
- Repatriation of remains, domestic and international.
- Facilitating and staffing family assistance centers to provide details for family members.
- Reunification centers for uniting families.
- Ensuring the affected families long-term needs are met by assigning specially trained teams.
Get What You Want
Conversely, many more people volunteered than we needed, and very few had the skills needed to support our work. Therefore, we developed a response support program that will help train interested staff how to work “in” the emergency operations center (in person and virtually). This will provide a larger pool of responders available to answer the call for help. The training is open to all job series and has a defined track for people to meet the requirements. Our program will introduce and socialize emergency management principles with those outside of the field to establish a base of knowledge. We also developed specific tracks for the various specialties needed during a major response. We did not have this prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it made us realize some incidents require all hands on deck, and we should prepare that way.
Here is a recap of the best practices we learned, and in come cases re-learned, through supporting a large agency responding to COVID-19 (and other, simultaneous international outbreaks):
- Best practice: develop a training program in advance so people who are interested can move quickly into collateral duty response support positions by providing training requirements, exercises, and on-the-job training.
- Best practice: routinely remind managers that their staff may need to support high priority work – socializing this regularly softens the blow when leaders make the decision to reassign personnel to higher agency priorities.
- Best practice: develop an internal policy/SOP for emergency response/collateral duty assignments clearly stating agency priority responses are indeed the priority. This helps employees know their responsibilities while providing them with the “top cover” and support needed when they may continue to get tasked by their regular supervisors.
- Best practice: thank staff early and often since the excitement and intrinsic rewards of response support often (always!) come with increased hours, personal sacrifice, and extraordinary requests
Partnerships Like Insurance
- Translation services.
- Hotel booking.
- Travel arrangements.
- Public relations and media messaging.
- Internal company messaging to employees.
Using Employees Versus Partnerships
The company’s decisions and response following an event can mean the difference in how an organization fares. Knowing this, an organization may think it should use its own employees for all aspects of the recovery. They may elect to obtain the staff and appropriate resources. Using its own employees has a few advantages: the employees know the individuals and resources of the organization, and they understand the corporate “way of doing business.”
The risks of using company employees is high. These risks include that individuals may be pulled into different directions due to competing priorities (the operation of the organization vs. the emergency recovery) and the employees may also feel personally connected to the event, or they may know someone who was involved. If the organization uses its own call center, it must ensure their staff is capable of handling very difficult calls in a professional manner, and the organization must realize the call center volume will increase as it handles both regular business and crisis inbound and outbound calls.
Partnerships and vendor relationships can provide hundreds of trained staff who are globally disbursed, possess specialized equipment, are an experienced workforce, and an independent expert lens to provide insight for company decision makers.
Partnerships allow for a quicker recovery for the business. The organization’s employee’s focus can quickly shift back to organizational needs while feeling confident that the needs of the affected are being met in a professional manner.
Partnerships are like insurance. You hope you never need to use it, but when it’s needed, the partnership will prove invaluable. The business’s employees and their consumers are all relying on its sustainability. It would be a mistake to overlook a partnership that can ensure this relationship continues even after a very dark day. It may have a monetary cost, but not having a partner can prove more costly.