The Importance of a Human Resources Commitment to Business Continuity

The Importance of a Human Resources Commitment to Business Continuity

By Ralph Petti, MBCI, CBCP

In today’s world, all organizations in an enterprise environment need to work together to create a holistic response to a disaster event. For many years, groups like operations, information technology and finance have been key focal for points for preparing for events. Lately, there seems to have been a greater focus on the some of the internal business management groups of many companies – including human resources, personnel and other similarly employee focused departments within a company.

This was evidenced as the need for disaster recovery planning and, later, business continuity planning, had been accepted as being the domain of operations/financial organizations. Most companies provided funding for disaster recovery solutions and empowered their information technology organizations to institute such programs “to keep the company running.” While budgets have always been tight, taking 2-4 percent of one’s operations budget to fund a workable and practical disaster recovery plan, it was always a reasonable request to make of management.

Over the past two decades, with the advent of several notable global tragedies (i.e., Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, among others), companies needed to address a more holistic plan in order to continue business operations. Management reached out to other business organizations, and their supply chain partners, to begin to understand if they would all be able to recover, how quickly they could be able to recover and what requirements would be necessary to help them all prepare for contingencies.

Human Resource’s Response

Human Resources and Business Continuity

Human resources departments have always seemed to be on the periphery of becoming directly involved in the preparation for events which could impact the manner in which a company conducts its business. More importantly, the areas of human resources, personnel and other such management organizations have always focused on the well-being and protection of their employees at such times. Did they succeed?

Think about it. You are at work and something happens that captures the attention of the local media or results in a call from a colleague at work to your home. Your family tries to call you but there is no answer at your desk or on your cell phone. They call your boss and that person may also not be available. Naturally, a next step would be to call the main number of the company and ask for someone in charge. You would most likely be directed to the human resources department for an accurate update. At the time of a disaster event, the operations and information technology departments would naturally be focused on the recovery of vital resources. The business departments will be focused on relocating staff and making sure they can communicate in to conduct some level of business. All other organizations will have their assigned tasks and responsibilities to carry forward. Will the human resources organization be capable of being a central authority for information and action to ensure that the employees, and ultimately, their families, stay safe, informed and vital to any disaster response?

Human Capital Management

Human capital management is the term that has emerged in the new millennium as the manner in which companies assess and act upon the protection of their employees and key supply chain partners. While this term has been viewed as a much better term than simply “human collateral,” the point of the matter is that an en- masse view of the re-engagement of all employees, with the priority of their safety, is paramount to any company.

Some companies are even instituting certain forms of personal recovery solutions that enable their employees to protect their families and possessions. This developing technology can help to assure employees can go to work at the time of a disaster knowing their families are safe. In this instance, you have a fully engaged employee when you need them the most!

One definition of human capital management, per Wikipedia, states: ”Human capital management refers to the stock of competences, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor as to produce economic value.” One keyword in this sentence is to “perform labor” At the time of a disaster event, what will it take to have your employees “perform labor?”

When an organization takes the time and effort to put together a business continuance plan, they are no doubt considering the well-being of their employees at the outset. Taken further, this plan could include the extended reach maintaining the employee’s key contact information, should that employee choose to provide such information. If the employee chooses not to provide such information, they need to understand that efforts to contact their next of kin or other contacts provided not be possible. It is up to the employee at that point to assume their own personal responsibility for incidents where the advisement of loved ones would have been necessary.

Case in point, during the California wildfires in 2009, one of our clients had to contact all of their employees to advise their employees not to come to work – due to the proximity of the wildfires to their office. They were only 99 percent successful in doing so as a few of their employees did not provide anything beyond a cell phone number of a home phone number. In either case, after the made a credible attempt to contact the employee, the employees did venture to work and were in danger due to their lack of received information.

The above example was based on the BC/DR plan that was owned by the operations organization. Had the HR department been more fully engaged on the front-end of this planning, they may have asked tougher questions, or at least, been more authoritative in enlightening the employees to the consequences of not providing all of the information that would have been necessary to fully protect them.

What Can HR and BCP Professional Each Do?

Opportunity exists for the human resource department to be a very willing stakeholder involved in the development, testing and, the actual response to a contingency event. If the enlistment of your human resources occurs successfully, then your efforts to engage these individuals at the time of a disaster event will be productive. If not, then the human resources department may be scrambling as much as you are to find out what is happening and what the impacts will be. On Sept. 11, 2001, as in every disaster event, credible information and accountability were essential to measurement, response and recovery of all organizations.

The same holds true for BCP professionals in seeking out their human resource counterparts. If someone believes that they are involving HR as a resource, or worse, as an afterthought, they might be in for a bumpy road. The human resource professional could be a valuable colleague to solicit funding, engage senior management and further perpetuate the value of industry standards, compliance and accountability.

Both human resource professionals and BCP professionals should look to one another’s industry groups for guidance and information. These professionals all certainly do understand what is at stake and they need to look at the resources that are available to ensure a smooth and efficient recovery effort. They can start right in their own backyard by joining local associations and attending national events

It’s a Collaborative Effort

Many of the SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) and SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) members and designates are now also becoming certified by business continuity professionals. There is traction for the individuals of both disciplines to engage more closely – and earlier in the process – as a collaborative manner in which to better protect their company’s interests.

The maturity of each area of focus – business continuity planning and human resources, along with the globalization of many companies –has become much more than a standalone discipline. Companies need to work closely both within their walls, as well as amongst their supply chain, business partners and clients, to remain fully aware of what is necessary todo. Of course, they cannot do that at the time of a disaster, and must plan ahead.

In essence, an involved human resources organization is one of the critical building blocks of an effectively planned, rehearsed and carried out disaster recovery response. It’s time to really engage HR.



Business Continuity Executive

Tempest Risk Management, LLC

Direct: 908.310.6381 

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