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September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on the world, organizations, and the field of Human Resource Management. Human Resource Management professionals were forced to quickly perform their jobs in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The types of immediate duties that needed to be performed included locating their workforce, providing a workspace for displaced employees, and establishing short term and longer term communication networks between their companies and their workers. This paper examines the longer term impact of the attacks of 9/11 on HR professionals’ crisis response decision making and crisis response plans and will describe the elements human resource professionals need to incorporate into a companywide response to crisis plan.
September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on the world. Lives and careers were changed as a result of the attacks of 9/11. It is imperative that organizations learn from this terrorist attack on the United States. Organizations need to have comprehensive plans to respond to, not only terrorist attacks, but many different types of crises. Organizations do not need to develop a
Plethora of plans, having a different plan for each possible crisis that may occur. A well-developed comprehensive Response to Crisis plan should enable all organizations to respond to unexpected disasters or crises. It would be wise for organizations to utilize their human resource (HR) departments in orchestrating these plans.
Every department in an organization needs to be prepared for a crisis. However, human resource departments are in a unique position to facilitate the implementation of crisis response plans. Human resource departments should already have in place relationships with all other departments in their organizations. These relationships should be used to help departmental managers prepare and train their employees for a possible crisis (Mainiero & Gibson, 2003). Human resource professionals are usually already responsible for the training of departmental employees as well as for handling all personnel issues for their employees.
An organization needs to have an organization wide Response to Crisis plan (Mainiero & Gibson, 2003). However, this plan needs to be carried out at the departmental level. Every department needs to be responsible for carrying out their crisis response plan. There may be many elements of every department’s plans which are similar but there may be some aspects that differ between departments. For example, the plan for the R & D department, where all employees work in one location, may differ from the plan for the sales department, where most of the employees are working out in the field. The human resource department will be instrumental in assisting departments in creating these plans. The human resource department should also be responsible for alerting departments to the components that are necessary in their specific plans. Also, HR should be able to greatly assist in creating the portions of the plans that are similar for every department and to help managers to figure out how their department plans need to differ from other departments. Needless to say, in order for human resources to play such a large role in the crisis response plan, they need to be a strategic partner in their organization where they “sit at the table”.
The importance of having a crisis response plan in place cannot be underestimated. While there has been a large body of research supporting this, the events of 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina have shown the un-preparedness of many firms to respond to crises. The fact that for some firms it was extremely difficult to account for their employees during 9/11, is an example of how crisis response plans need to be in place. There have been surveys showing firms are still not prepared for a crisis (SHRM, 2001).
It is important to note that although this paper will describe many examples from 9-11, this paper is not meant to address only terrorist attacks. A good crisis response plan should enable organizations to respond to both natural disasters and those caused by human actions. Whether they are natural disasters, workplace violence, fires, factories blowing up, or terrorist attacks, organizations need to have a crisis response plan in place that will allow them to respond to any crisis. It is not inconceivable that organizations will experience another terrorist attack.
The most important parts of a crisis response plan are the immediate actions needed in the short run. Once the short terms issues are addressed, there are several long term aspects of a crisis response plan that need to be addressed. In the short term, a well-thought out crisis response plan will have 8 actions items. The acronym for the elements in the plan is H.R. S.A.F.E.T.Y. The letters stand for Human contact; Records; Space; Alternative plan; Family; Evacuation; Tracking; and Yell. Each of these elements will be briefly discussed below.Human Contact. The first and foremost action in a crisis response plan is to locate all of a firm’s employees. The events of 9-11 showed that there needs to be a well developed communicated plan to contact all employees after a crisis. Within hours of the terrorist attacks, many organizations made it their first goal to locate each of their employees. This was true for New York based enterprises, as well as national firms that may have had an office in New York or employees traveling in the area. This called for HR professionals all over the country to immediately shift into high gear (Overman, 2001). Human Resources professionals who worked for companies in the World Trade Center, immediately following the tragedy consulted their disaster recovery plans (if one existed) and geared up to contact all members of their companies. HR professionals in companies not directly hit by the attack also needed to take action, to consult their disaster recovery plans (if one existed), and to make sure that they knew where all of their employees were.
HR professionals used various methods, from low-tech written communications, to high-tech web-based communications to locate their employees (Overman, 2001). For example, American Insurance Group enlisted its west coast HR professionals to place phone calls to its east coast workers and families because the local phone lines on the East Coast were tied up (Hinkley, 2001). Deloitte & Touche used its voicemail system to leave information to employees across the country, asking everyone to contact a toll-free number to account for their whereabouts. Deloitte & Touche also used its travel agency to confirm whether any employees were booked on the hi-jacked flights, or scheduled to travel into the affected areas (Salgado, 2001).
Organizations need to devise a plan to contact all employees that realizes different crises may create different obstacles to contacting employees. Phone lines may be non-operational in cities. Cell phones may not work. Employees may not have access to telephones or news outlets. Employees need to think outside of the box when devising a contact plan. Of course there should be immediate contact with all employees working directly in the building if possible. Telephone calls should be placed to all employees not working in the building. It may be necessary to have a system where someone in another region calls the employees. New York firms could hire a California firm to handle contacting their employees from California. There is also the possibility of setting up a system where employees know to call into or email to a phone line set up in another region to report their whereabouts at their first opportunity. There may be a local site where employees are told to report after a crisis has happened and employees can be checked off the logs at that site.
Records. Complete records of organizational personnel and equipment. Employees will not be able to contact their employees if they do not have current lists of their employees and ways to contact them. The hardest part of this step is the word “current”. Not only do employee’s whereabouts change daily in organizations but the employees themselves change. Organizations need to have a complete list of who works for their firm and how to contact them. The list of employees could easily be generated by human resources and distributed to departments on a daily basis. An issue is where to keep the list. Organizations may want to send daily lists of employees to offices in other regions. They may want to find an offsite location where lists may be kept. Once the issue of how and where to keep a list of current employees is taken care of, the more difficult task begins. How do organizations keep track of how to contact their employees from day-to-day. Employers may keep lists of employee cell phones and home phones.
Organizations could request all employees use one travel agency and have that travel agency forward a daily list of where traveling employees are. Employees could be asked to enter daily into a computer program or phone system where they will be located on that day. Since employees may not take this responsibility seriously, frequent “location drills” could be done where the firm attempts to contact every employee according to the most recent information an employee has given and see if the info has been updated daily. If the employee contact list is not current it will hinder the fist step of contacting all employees and waste valuable resources in a time of crisis.
In addition to having an employee list, organizations should have a record of what equipment and supplies they will need to set up immediate temporary headquarters and work out of alternative work spaces. Although this does not carry the daily urgency of an employee location list, this list will help departmental managers when developing their emergency plans to make sure they are able to collect or duplicate the equipment and supplies needed to get back to work. This will alleviate a lot of wasted time while trying to set up alternative work areas.
Space. Once the people issues are addressed, the next concern for companies facing a crisis is finding a new workspace. Getting a company up and running after a disaster is any company’s ultimate goal. This may involve finding a way to continue paying people, as Aaron Feuerstein, owner of Malden Mills Industries, did after a fire destroyed his mill in Massachusetts (Murray, 2003), or it may mean running a smaller operation, or it may mean becoming fully functional by the next day. Approximately 20 million square feet of office space was damaged or destroyed in the World Trade Center and about two-fifths of the Pentagon was shut down. HR professionals coordinated employees’ movement to other offices within their companies and rental spaces in New York and nearby New Jersey and Connecticut. Pentagon employees were moved to leased space near the building (Overman, 2001).