Ten Years Post-Katrina: Are We Better Prepared?
A decade has passed, but images of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction remain forever etched in our nation’s collective psyche, serving as a reminder of the importance of crisis preparedness and rapid response. However, the adage of history repeating itself certainly applies here; although far from immune to the devastation of natural and manmade disasters, we return to complacency. It can’t happen here, not in my community or my place of work. As we reflect on the nearly 2,000 people killed and more than a million displaced from Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, there are lessons learned that employers should consider related to their crisis management strategy. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) like Beacon’s have a responsibility to reinforce those lessons.
An employer’s ability to respond effectively to a crisis event is directly related to a crisis response plan. A well thought-out plan and a team ready to be mobilized for action will help to restore a sense of order for those impacted by a traumatic event. After experiencing a workplace crisis, many employers have observed the following:
- The crisis response plan should be a fluid document involving input and participation by numerous departments within the organization.
- The employee assistance program should be an active partner in the creation and execution of the plan.
- No two crisis events are exactly alike, and organizations must be nimble in their response based on the needs of the workplace.
- Caring for both the practical and emotional needs of the workforce following a crisis are critical in building a sense of recovery and resiliency.
Consistent with Malcolm Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” in his book, The Tipping Point, the key to creating a resilient culture is training first-line managers how to be resilient leaders. Resilient leaders can create the “tipping point” that changes an entire culture. While business schools rarely focus on crisis leadership, there are examples in our recent history of both highly effective and ineffective leadership styles during and following a crisis. Strong leaders recognize the following:
- The highest levels of leadership must be visible to those hurting the most.
- Over-communication must occur because people are processing information in a fragmented manner.
- Leaders must promote help-seeking behaviors by encouraging and supporting the assistance of the EAP and other behavioral health experts.
- Workers must be given regular “inoculations” of psychoeducational information to help them deal with the effects of long-term exposure of the devastation of a crisis.
- A process must be in place to remove workers when their safety or the safety of their co-workers is in danger due to lack of focus caused by behavioral health issues following a crisis.
EAP Following a Crisis
Following a crisis, the EAP is an invaluable organizational tool and resource to help promote the recovery effort. That support may include, but is not limited to, these key areas:
- Help define and support rituals that focus on the future
- Facilitate trainings on resiliency and recovery
- Assist organizations with their employee communications efforts
- Focus on a culture of health and emotional wellness
- Reinvigorate or update efforts around crisis preparedness and planning
- Provide ongoing support and encouragement to leaders
- Promote help-seeking behaviors and access to resources and referrals for practical, everyday needs as well as counseling support
A well thought-out plan and a team ready to be mobilized for action will help to restore a sense of order for those impacted by a traumatic event.
Employee wellbeing comes first following a workplace disaster or crisis event, but there are other issues at stake as well. A company’s reputation, shareholder value, employee retention, employee productivity and the overall sustainability of the company could be at risk. In the future, the occurrence of other large-scale disasters is inevitable, but how an organization responds can have a meaningful impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of the workforce. Hurricane Katrina is a painful reminder that crisis preparedness needs to begin today – not after a crisis occurs.