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    COVID-19 Prompts a Review of Storm Preparation and Disaster Recovery Plans

    Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has businesses looking at new ways of doing their work and how that work gets done. To meet operations and staffing requirements, many businesses are expanding their workforce using a mix of employees, contractors and staffing agencies to provide more flexibility. Workplaces are changing too as they adapt to social distancing protocols and remote employees working from home.

    Last year, heading into the summer months’, threats of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods and fires dominated the landscape. Planning for any hurricane season or other potential disaster is stressful enough, never mind planning for these 2020 events alongside of the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-term data over 40 years shows that hurricanes are getting stronger. In a study recently released by NOAA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison scientists reported that major hurricanes are becoming more common and that they are becoming stronger events. And while hurricane season just began this month, there were two tropical storms, Arthur and Bertha, last month, and tropical storm Cristobal made landfall this week in Louisiana. 

    Planning for weather emergencies is going to be different this year from how it has been done in the past given the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has impacted the workforce. Taking time now to review your storm preparation and disaster recovery plans is key. How do recent changes to your workforce, workplaces or social distancing requirements impact your current storm preparation or disaster recovery plan? Are tasks assigned to the right resources or have there been changes?

    Communicating storm preparations to your team may look different given social distancing, remote working and COVID-19. Here are some things to consider as you review your storm planning and disaster recovery plans:

    1. Update employee contact information including cellphone numbers, personal email addresses and emergency contacts. Gather information where your employees will be sheltering or evacuating to during the storm.
    2. In the past, it was challenging enough to figure out when to release employees to prepare for their own shelter and storm preparation. Now with more people working remotely, you need to determine who to call in to the workplace to assist with securing properties and office buildings before the storm hits. Communicate your expectations around remote workers and storm preparation to employees well in advance of any potential storm.
    3. Increase your employees’ awareness around storm preparation from both an employment and personal perspective. Storm preparation may look different this year, especially for employees on a personal level. Many stores are enforcing social distancing and product limits and have shorter hours of operations. This makes it difficult to procure personal supplies during storm preparation.
    4. If you have employees who need to evacuate the area, you may need to prepare to release them sooner than usual this year. Shelters for evacuees and areas not impacted by the storm will fill up more quickly because of social distancing requirements.
    5. Power outages can pose major problems, especially for remote workers. Previously these employees could go to go to work at coffee shops, libraries or other public locations with Wi-Fi. Given the pandemic, these options may not be available. Consider staggering schedules or rotating shifts to allow remote employees to re-enter the workplace to charge their electronic devices.
    6. After the storm, check in with employees to see how they fared and to communicate information about their return to work so that you can plan accordingly. Employers may need to stagger work schedules or rotate shifts to accommodate workers back in the workplace to meet social distancing guidelines.

    Remember that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) continues to provide employees with paid leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 through December 31, 2020. Stay tuned, I expect to hear more about how the FFCRA might intersect with other employee leave benefits for storm and natural disaster evacuations over the next coming months.

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