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Emergency Situations and Your Mobile Employees 09.22.2017 | Jennifer Connell

Weichert Emergency Situations

What’s your first move if an emergency situation – whether a tropical storm or a political uprising – breaks out around the corner from your home?

Now imagine this is your new home – in a new city, state, or country. Suddenly, you’re not just dealing with the emotional and financial stress of an impending disaster coming at you at supersonic speed, but you’re also in an unfamiliar land and possibly navigating a language barrier with no escape in sight.

This nightmare scenario was a horrifying reality for countless mobile employees in Texas and Florida, who were battered by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The colossal hurricanes wreaked havoc on the regions; claiming over a hundred lives, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, and causing hundreds of billions dollars of damage, according to White House estimates.

Of course disasters aren’t always avoidable, but we can avoid being ill-prepared. So, here are a few best practices to ensure your mobile, on-the-move workforce is 100% prepared when an emergency strikes.

  • Before employees even step foot into their new home – wherever that may be – conduct an in-depth briefing about the potential emergencies lurking in their new area – whether its tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, mud slides, wild fires, political uprisings, protests, etc.
  • Then, keep mobile employees in the know by emailing and distributing hard copies of up-to-date contact info for all staff. That way there’s no scrambling looking for phone numbers or email addresses in the throes of a dangerous situation.
  • Now, what’s the number one move that’ll save your company time, money, and possibly even lives when a disaster strikes? Form an “emergency team” – a group of employees who’ll devise emergency protocols and also step up as leaders during a crisis. The emergency team will handle everything from contacting affected employees’ loved ones to coordinating safety efforts with the local police and fire departments.
  • Ensure that ongoing payments, including payroll are uninterrupted and that they can access funds throughout the emergency.
  • Next order of business: Create an A to Z plan addressing the who, what, when, where, and how of possible emergencies. For example, if your company has a large contingent of employees in a hurricane-prone area, then a sample plan your emergency team could create and execute might look like this:

Who/What: Keep a continually updated contact list (phone, email, and physical address) of employees in the target area. Also, maintain a database with the family headcount for each employee. That way the emergency team can make appropriate arrangements for employees and their loved ones – and no one is left out in the cold, literally! After all, what if the emergency team only purchases one airplane ticket for Kevin from the sales department… but Kevin shows up at the airport with his wife, three children and golden retriever?

When: The hurricane season in the U.S. runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Where: Create a database of the contact info of emergency services (e.g. police and fire departments, hospitals) in the hurricane hot spot towns/cities where your employees live.

How: This is the nitty-gritty of your plan. Say, as soon as the NWS announces a severe hurricane threat, the emergency team will enact the evacuation plan: contact affected employees, book their transportation and provide temporary housing (i.e. motel/apartment complex) in a location out of the storm’s path. Just as important? Create a plan for employees who don’t evacuate – for whatever reason (whether medical or personal). Have a list of available shelters at the ready and brainstorm way to deliver care packages of food/water/cash/clothes immediately after the disaster dissipates.

Once employees are confirmed safe, disseminate frequent communications via texts, emails, and phone calls. For example, the emergency team could send out an email blast throughout the day detailing when the next company-chartered bus will arrive to transport workers or the addresses of available shelters. Staying in constant communication with displaced workers will reduce panic, stress, and confusion. Be clear in all communications that employees shouldn’t return home until they’ve been given the go-ahead by local emergency services.

OK, so the above works if your employees are already settled in their new homes. But what if your company has employees in the midst of relocating to an area hard hit by disaster? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First: Conduct a comprehensive situation assessment (e.g. get a headcount of how many employees are impacted, where they are located and confirm they are accounted for).
  • Assist in expediting insurance claims.
  • Consider providing a housing allowance/lump sum to offset interrupted temporary housing provisions.
  • Be flexible. Provide employees with the option to evacuate to other areas of the country to be with family until the area is considered safe to return. Assure them that extensions in temporary living and storage will be approved.
  • Extend the offer acceptance period for employees considering a guaranteed offer or self-marketing their homes.
  • Consider allowing homeowners the chance to rent in the new location, or extend the time period for eligibility to use home purchase benefits.
  • Authorize a new allowance to cover emergency-related expenses (e.g. cell phone costs) for the duration of the emergency.
  • Verify with payroll that employees will be paid on time and have access to funds.

So, what if you have employees on assignment outside the affected area but with family or property in the region?

  • First: Contact all employees on assignment to confirm they’re safe and share updates about the latest safety information.
  • Then, consider providing additional home leave to check on loved ones and personal property. This will alleviate any fears and expedite claims.
  • Also, re-issue any emergency assistance provisions of your policy for international assignees.
  • And provide staff with contact information for the emergency team as well as local emergency services.

In all cases, emergencies can result in emotional stress and strain. Leverage your company’s EAP provider to offer assistance.

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Written by Jennifer Connell

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Jennifer Connell, SCRP, SGMS-T, is a Practice Leader with Weichert’s Advisory Services group. She has over 25 years of experience in the workforce mobility and employee benefits industries and received Worldwide ERC’s Distinguished Service Award in 2017. She has also spoken on workforce mobility topics at industry conferences throughout North America.

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