More to Know About Preparing for a Disaster

When a disaster strikes, it is critical to know where everyone is located.

Our first discussion about disasters addressed several types of disasters and some basics needed to properly address disruption in normal activities. Please reference part one to learn more about disaster types and how to build a robust team.

STAGING AREAS. When a disaster strikes, it is critical to know where everyone is located.

Wardens. For this purpose, wardens should be appointed, each to be responsible for a specific list of employees. A warden should also be appointed to contact business partners. Contact can be accomplished via VoiceShot or another mass communication platform.

Locations. Identify staging areas for each office location. The employees at each location should determine the most prudent, safe places to meet in case of an emergency. Locations should be within easy walking distance, but far enough from the building to address a bomb threat. Specifically, identify these staging areas by location.

Groups. It makes sense not to designate more than 20 people to report to any one staging area. A warden will be responsible for matching people at the staging area to names on a list, so it’s important not to make any list too long. Things usually become chaotic during emergencies. Keep things simple, so that no one is easily forgotten.

Drills. At least twice a year, a drill should be implemented at each location. The times and frequency of running these drills may vary between offices, but drills are very important. When a disaster strikes, people will need to react automatically. For this reason, it is important for everyone to participate in these drills.

It may make sense to schedule the disaster drills when the building management does its fire drills. It is the responsibility of the wardens to account for the people on their lists, and to have their groups go to their staging areas. Expect people to complain, but if they don’t practice when it is not an emergency, they may not survive when it is.

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ALTERNATIVE FACILITIES. Prepare beforehand. Alternative facilities should be designated to accommodate those disasters that will continue for some time. When seeking alternative facility options, it is critical to be able to properly access all technological applications and documents remotely. It is important to review all current leases to determine if rent has to be paid when the building is not accessible.

Working From Home may be the best option. This alternative has become quite common since the Coronavirus pandemic. However, many people do not know how to work from home for an extended period and how to effectively interact with colleagues and clients. For this reason, a work-from-home policy should be prepared, reviewed and endorsed by each employee. This policy should:

  • Include a “home office” provision. All employees are to be based in a primary office—this will accommodate an employer that may not want to abide by another states’ labor laws.
  • Ensure that employees have a safe work area in their homes. All communications must be secure, which requires that the internet in each home be secure.
  • Specify the party responsible for each expense and explain that all the company’s employment policies apply when working remotely. It would be worth the investment to hire an employment attorney to review the policy to ensure that the company is compliant with all labor laws.
  • Offer classes throughout the year that teach employees how to properly work and communicate effectively when working remotely. It is also possible to find courses dealing with these subjects that include certification credits (CLM, CLE, CPE). It may make sense to offer this accredited training at least once a year.

Sublease Space. When dealing with a disaster, if it becomes necessary to sublet space, it is important that the new space be secure, both from the disaster and technologically, and that all documents are stored in a confidential area. Be sure to properly evaluate the environment, however; it may make more sense for employees to work from home.

SHELTER IN PLACE. Schools routinely instruct students how to behave when there is an active shooter in the vicinity. They practice what to do and what not to do.

Training. Many police departments offer free active shooter training to instruct employees what to do in such cases. Though much of this information may be found online, it can be of great advantage to have the police visit the location; they can determine the best action to be taken at each specific facility.

When a disaster recovery team attempts to present this type of training, fellow employees tend to dismiss it. But when the police present the training, their expertise in these matters is usually well-received.

In the final writing on disaster recovery, we will address:

  • Detailed Information About Educating Employees, which is an ongoing initiative. People need to know how to react to bomb threats, floods, fires, gas leaks, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, etc.
  • Website: What and where to publish current events as necessary. Depending on the disaster, a press release may be necessary.
  • Clients: How best to communicate with clients and when.
  • Potential Lawsuits: How best to document activities to mitigate any confusion with malpractice and workers’ compensation claims.

Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.

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