Staff still ignored in crisis planning for disasters: business continuity plans ignore impact of losing staff

Three out of four companies are unprepared for the impact that losing staff will have if disaster strikes, according to major research.

Despite terror attacks in London and the threat of avian flu, less than half (49%) of firms reported they had a business continuity plan.

Of those with business continuity plans, only half have planned for a loss of staff. Many (44%) justified this by saying they thought a loss of people would not have a significant impact on the ability of their business to function.

The results come despite government warnings that a flu pandemic could lead to absence rates of up to 25%.

The vast majority (83%) of the 1,150 public and private sector managers surveyed admitted they do not have any plans to cope with high levels of absence for anything beyond short-term periods.

The 2006 Business Continuity Management Survey by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the Cabinet Office shows that people remain a poor second to technology, which is the primary concern in the event of a disaster.

Two-thirds of business continuity plans covered the loss of IT and telecommunications.

Jo Causon, director of corporate affairs at the CMI, said too little was being done to cater for the impact that the loss of staff could have on a business.

“Any business continuity plan has to be robust, and a critical element is planning for your people,” she said. “It’s all very well having the technology, but if you have no-one to run it, that’s a problem.”

Lydon Bird, technical services director at the Business Continuity Institute, said a lack of preparation for losing staff was the single biggest gap in most business continuity plans.

“HR departments should be looking at this and pushing the people factor forward as part of the risk management agenda, but I don’t think they are,” he said.

Does the cost outweigh the risk?

What can HR do?

What can the HR department do to help prepare the business for a sudden loss of personnel?

Orientation – all new starters should understand company policy on business continuity management (BCM) as part of their orientation programme.

Awareness – regular business continuity management workshops and roadshows should be undertaken by an organisation to keep existing staff aware of all issues including possible emergency working locations.

Interchangeable skills – staff should understand that in the event of a disaster, they might be asked to undertake different (more time-critical) jobs and must accept becoming multi-skilled.

Contact – staff must be contactable at all times and must be prepared to provide out-of-hours contact details. If company policy conflicts with this, serious negotiations are necessary.

Transport – in the event of a disaster, all aspects of staff transportation need to be considered in the plan.

Welfare and emergency funding for displaced staff – the plan must cater for this.

Change of working hours and locations – moving on to shifts, working in different locations, extra payments to staff to cover these inconveniences; HR departments must plan for this in advance.

Identify good crisis managers – provide professional training in specialist areas, such as the media.

Strategy – include business continuity management in your succession planning considerations.

Source: Business Continuity Institute

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