I live in Spring, Texas, 40 miles north of Houston. Preparing for Harvey included all the normal stuff: get water, gas, money and let your family, friends and my work team know where I would l be and how to contact me. Continuous news coverage began on Saturday morning and didn’t stop till 7-days later, on September 2. We moved into our new house in March and it sits on a retention pond. We were told that we should be ok, the open space behind us is a drainage area for the pond and is for the overflow. Thankfully, they were right. While the water got close to our yard, it didn’t come into our home or the neighborhood and we didn’t lose our power for any length of time.
However, others in my community were not so lucky, and our family, friends and colleagues were watching it on national tv wondering if we were ok. I sent updates every morning and afternoon via text to let my family know how we were holding up and HRP was on that list.
A Houston client of HRP has 12 employees and is no stranger to hurricanes. They have developed a disaster preparedness plan and they activated it as soon as they knew the storm was coming. They closed the office on Friday, asked the employees that live outside of the area to stay connected with clients and asked local employees to work from home, if they could. Once the weekend passed and the rain was still falling, the President of the company sent an email to all employees and contractors (including me) to update everyone on how the Houston team was holding up. Everyone was safe, but one employee had been displaced. Donations of PTO, supplies and money were requested from the employees and contractors. The team pitched in and $500, gift cards and supplies were collected and available for distribution 48 hours later. Along with the announcement of thanks to all employees for helping, they received an update that one of their managers had added to his family over the week when his wife delivered a healthy baby boy right as the storm was coming to an end.
My husband works for a much larger company, but they too used email and text to stay in touch with their employees. His boss texted him every day to check in and emails were sent to all employees every day. On Monday, they told everyone that they would be paid for the day even though no one could make it to work. The shop stayed closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and on Thursday those that could make it in, went to work.
Technology and social media were huge roles in this disaster. We were fortunate to have electricity, some lost theirs but by using their phones only for updates or emergencies, having back up batteries, and hot spots opened by Xfinity throughout the entire region, people could stay connected. We saw a lot of people rescued because of their ability to reach someone, anyone through social media or a text.
When the rain stopped, all we wanted to do was help those in need. We looked for places to donate towels, sheets and clothes. Then we wanted to do more. We volunteered at our Church to help clean out homes that had been flooded, made food for the workers and the families, put together flood buckets with supplies and distributed them to the neighborhoods in need. It never felt like enough, we wanted to do more.
When disaster strikes your community, as an individual you seek ways to help. As a business, you find ways to support your employees who may have been impacted. More than a week has passed since people were in shock over the damage Harvey caused. Roads are still closed, people’s homes are still flooded and yet I have sent my kids back to school, my husband and I can go to work, my electricity is on and my house dry. Survivors guilt can become paralyzing at times, employees sometimes experience this when a layoff happens, it’s happened to me. When putting together your disaster preparedness plan, don’t forget that after the dust settles, there will be those want or need a day off to volunteer, help a family member or take some time to organize a fundraiser. It’s hard to plan for those that are impacted by a disaster because you don’t know the needs until after the storm has left. Planning on how you are going to support the employees that may not have not been directly impacted may not be as hard.
For information on how you can start a disaster preparedness plan and for ideas on what you can do to help employees impacted, check out our September newsletter.