What to Do When a Natural Disaster Strikes: Best Practices Regarding Talent

This year started out economically strong in Nashville, Tennessee. The city has ranked within the top 10 large metro areas for job growth and population over the last six years, and more than half of the nation’s population resides within 650 miles of Nashville. In early January, a Zillow survey even named the city – known for its country music, southern food, hospitality and growing tech scene – as the fourth hottest real estate market in the country. A few weeks later, the Greater Nashville Regional Council released estimates that the region’s population would grow by more than 50% by 2045.

In early March, the excitement turned to concern when at least 10 tornadoes hit the West and Middle Tennessee areas, killing 25 people and injuring more than 300 others. The experience brought home how quickly things can change – and how important it is to prepare ahead of time with practices and protocols in place. The Hire Dynamics team was ready, yet it was still challenging to react when many of our own were among those affected. Reflecting on our experience, we have gathered key checklists that may help other staffing agencies to respond quickly and effectively if faced with a similar crisis.

Prepare Before a Crisis Hits

There are key steps to take before a crisis hits, including:

  1. Have an emergency action plan in place. It should detail WHO in an office is responsible for WHAT, WHERE information is stored, and WHEN to begin to implement the plan.
  2. Have up-to-date contact information for employees and talent as well as whom to contact on their behalf in an emergency.
  3. Collect multiple ways to reach people, including their address, phone, text and email information. Some communications channels may not be working in the first hours after a natural disaster, but others might be.

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Assess Talent and Employee Safety

When a crisis strikes, it’s important to assess talent and employee safety quickly, by following these steps:

  1. Compare residential addresses of employees and talent to the areas affected. Identify priority people to contact. After the tornadoes hit, we used ZIP codes of talents’ addresses and placed them on a map to give a view by county and overall. Then, we used Google Earth to look at the damaged areas, assess if talent lived in those areas and determine how to get there to help if possible. Continue to monitor the missing persons list to see if talent or employees are on it.
  2. Divide the list of people you are trying to reach among your office employees. Alphabetize the list of talent you need to reach and divide it among your branch employees. These employees will become the central point of contact for those talent members for initial calls and follow-up communication.
  3. Attempt to contact people by all methods possible. Ask them to contact their branch supervisor to let them know about their safety and related needs. Text messaging tools work well to send mass texts to talent.
  4. Reach out to emergency contacts. This is crucial if you haven’t been able to reach people after multiple attempts. For example, we were able to reach one talent member’s emergency contact who told us the person we were trying to locate was at a local church. That’s where we finally reached her – she did not have power to charge her cellphone when we were initially trying to connect with her.

Assist Displaced Talent

When you reach people, be prepared to listen to their story and find out what they need. Let them know that you will follow-up regularly and assure them that your firm is working to place them in a safe working environment as soon as they can return to work. Next, once you know what your talent needs, prioritize it based on severity and figure out how your organization can help, including:

  1. Determine what resources and information your organization will follow.Follow advice issued by trusted sources -FEMA, OSHA and county and local leaders- instead of trying to make your own guidelines.
  2. Offer information about community-based resources. Many community organizations quickly move into action after a natural disaster. Direct talent to help and offer your own assistance to these organizations if you can.Provide meals for some of the volunteers in these organization who are on the front lines of helping people.
  3. Consider how to offer financial or other assistance to talent. If possible, offer short-time financial assistance to help people cope with unexpected housing and food costs. Consider putting some talent into hotel rooms for a few days to help them get back on their feet. Your branch and company leaders should determine how this assistance will be provided and in which circumstances.

Finally, as the crisis subsides, be sure to note learnings. What worked well? What didn’t? What changes should you make to your Emergency Action Plan? Tweak your plans and processes based on this real-life experience so your staffing agency will be better prepared for a future crisis.

MORE: How to attract talent during an outbreak

Karen Wilhite

Karen Wilhite
Karen Wilhite is regional manager – Nashville for Hire Dynamics.

Karen Wilhite

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