HR professionals in Cumbria undefeated by floods

HR leaders in Cumbria have praised the “tremendous” efforts of employees during the devastating floods that have hit parts of the county.

The flooding, which began on 19 November, forced more than 500 people from their homes and destroyed six bridges – crippling the transport infrastructure in Cockermouth, Workington and Keswick.

Cumbria County Council, which employs 17,000 staff, had hundreds of employees directly affected by the floods, but they refused to let the disaster stop them from working, according to Jamie Sims, head of people management.

“Everyone has made every effort to get to work, getting up at 3am and making two-hour trips in,” he told Personnel Today. “The effort has been tremendous.”

Sims pointed to the case of Nita Porcello, the corporate learning and development manager, who lives near Keswick and was unable to leave her house for three days. “She had no power so she couldn’t get online but she continued to work, using her BlackBerry,” he said. “And then when she was able to leave, she made a two-hour detour to get to the office.”

The council’s HR team has been at the forefront of the recovery effort, with staff manning the phones in the emergency control room as well as a dedicated desk for council staff ringing in.

And the organisational development team, which includes IT, was quick to set up an internet café in Cockermouth, so that both the public and council staff could access e-mail, free of charge.

Cumbria NHS Trust, which employs about 2,500 staff, has borne the brunt of the floods, with workers such as GPs, district nurses and employees in community hospitals directly affected.

But Ross Forbes, the trust’s director of corporate affairs, said staff had been “incredibly flexible”, with some “heroic” employees working for more than 90 hours in the first six days after the floods.

“No-one has called in sick despite the difficulties getting in,” he said. “Those in north Workington whose trip to work used to be five minutes have been forced on a two-hour, 20-mile round trip.”

The trust’s HR team made sure that staff journeys were as short as possible, with reception centres set up in places such as community halls and churches, Forbes said. “Disaster recovery plans have been effective,” he added.

Sims agreed that disaster recovery planning had been vital, but he stressed that business continuity was equally important. “My priority has been getting on with my job,” he said. “It’s an important message to send out: Cumbria is open for business.”

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