I’ve preached about including doctors in emergency healthcare planning. If docs don’t know what we’re supposed to do, we might just stay home. But is it different for anyone else? Let’s assume most of you, or at least your spouses, have a job. After a major disaster, have you considered whether you’ll still be working? Your ability to work may not save lives, but most of you still need to pay bills! In addition, in order for communities to recover, they need healthy businesses, large and small.

Take Care Of Basics First

Obviously you first want to make sure everyone is safe, reunite with your family, and attend to necessities like shelter, food, and water. Your advance emergency preparedness (and a large dose of luck) determines how fast you move through this stage. Will you feel able to work after a disaster? Some want to hunker down with their loved ones and their “stuff” for a while after a disaster – maybe seeking reassurance that they won’t disappear. Others develop cabin fever (or shelter fever if you’re displaced). They want to resume activities, maybe seeking reassurance that the world will go on!

Emergency Food Supplies (I want some!)

Emergency Food Supplies (I want some!)

 Will Your Employer Let You Volunteer?

Volunteering might be your next priority. From a community standpoint, I applaud this decision. Your employer, however, may not be as generous. Before planning for a major volunteer commitment in disaster response (as opposed to just helping your neighbors), you’d better have a talk with your employer. Depending on the nature of your business (and the nature of your boss), their response could range anywhere from fully supportive to “not a chance”. Better to determine that now!

Will Your Business Be Open?

Does your employer have an alternate work site planned?

Does your employer have an alternate work site planned?

If the building was damaged, internally or externally, you may be out of a job unless your employer has an alternative work site. Prepared employers arrange this in advance, as well as alternative ways to get essential equipment and records. Some businesses already have disaster plans for downsizing, either because demand for their services will decrease, or because they will be unable to function fully in a disaster recovery situation. I highly recommend you read your business’ emergency plan, and you’ll gain a feeling about whether your job and business will even exist after a disaster.

Business Communications After A Disaster

Can your employer reach you with instructions? Obviously, up to date contact information for everyone is essential, including phone numbers, text, and e-mail addresses, both work and personal. Notice the words “up-to-date”! You can’t expect employers to know when your information changes. Remember to tell them, or you might find yourself struggling to the office after a disaster, only to discover they moved across town. Many employers still use traditional telephone trees for emergency communications – a plan likely to fail. Phones often don’t work (although texts might). Even if phones function, telephone trees are unwieldy and poorly designed for responding back. Some employers now have automated notification systems that allow a supervisor to transmit a message electronically to a control center out of the area. The control center then sends simultaneous phone, text, and e-mail messages to all desired employees, and allows electronic responses. This of course presumes you have text or electronics access. When in doubt, go low tech. Listen to the radio! They often air information about business and other closures. Even lower tech? Drive, bike, or walk to your place of business and see what is going on.

Transportation To Work

Where do you live in relationship to your work? Consider things like distance, roads, bridges, and public transportation in determining your ability to physically reach your job. Understanding the likely disasters for your area helps predict effects on transportation. For example, in my area, our greatest risk is earthquake. Many of our bridges are old and might collapse, particularly on the highways. I can plot non-bridge ways of getting many places on my side of town, but I won’t be going to the other side of the river for a long time! Consider including a bicycle or scooter in your planning as alternative transportation – they can cross pedestrian bridges and get through many damaged roads. Bike Portland has a great article on using Cargo Bikes for Disaster Response.

Essential Emergency Employees

Essential employees are expected to continue operations in a variety of emergency situations. Obviously this includes emergency responders, but building managers, IT support, money people, and many supervisors can also fall in this category. If you fall in this category, your job description should document that reporting in an emergency is an essential part of your job duties. If you have this designation, you better have plans on how to respond despite all the problems listed above. If you don’t, you may be out of a job (and without a good recommendation).

Unemployment Line

Unemployment Line

Will You Lose Your Job?

It is difficult to predict job losses after disaster. Temporary business closure is common, with people laid off or transferred to other locations (often including a cut in hours or pay). Temporary recovery jobs appear, but often require specialized construction skills that most unemployed do not possess. Many businesses reopen within weeks, providing that community infrastructure like transportation, water, and power was repaired. For bigger disasters with large amounts of destruction, the job situation for several years may depend on business vs residential damage. With destroyed businesses, unemployment will obviously be a big problem. However, citizens sometimes leave an area disproportionately to businesses.Those who stay may actually have increased employment opportunities.

Unemployment After A Disaster

What if you can’t work after a disaster for any reason? Who will pay your bills? If you are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation, luckily we also have Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). According to the Department of Labor, you may be eligible for DUA if you are injured, if you can’t get to your job, or if your business closes as a result of a declared disaster. Unluckily, unemployment insurance only covers part of your previous income – often a very small part indeed!

Business Emergency Planning

The most important thing allowing businesses to stay open after a disaster is business emergency and continuity planning. The most important thing allowing employees to report to work after a disaster is good individual and family preparedness. Preparedness, preparedness, preparedness – it always comes back to this. So ask your employer to offer (or require) emergency preparedness training for employees. Question your supervisor about business emergency plans (or give them my link) – maybe they will respond to repeated prompting about making preparedness a priority. Prepared employers sometimes even partially subsidize employee emergency supplies as a good investment. It might not hurt to ask!

Financially surviving a disaster ultimately becomes as important as physically surviving a disaster. No work = no money. It’s time to add “work” to your preparedness plans.

Stay safe,

Sheila Sund, M.D.

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Comments
  1. Louis B. Baggett says:

    Excellent blog. These are things we all need to think about.

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