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HOUSTON -- Businesses are risking their survival if they don't prepare their employees for disasters as carefully as they prepare their property.
Companies have little value if there are no employees available to work at them, warned Theresa M. Hull, emergency services educator at Chevron Real Estate Management Co., a San Francisco-based division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
In a presentation this month at the I-Day conference sponsored by the Houston Chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc., Ms. Hull told employers they must realize that workers who are prepared for disasters will be the ones who are able to keep their companies running.
"Worker preparedness is critical to business survival" in a disaster, she said. "If workers don't live long enough to come back to work, your business will not succeed."
She urged employers not to overlook the fact that their employees have lives outside the workplace. Personal preparedness at home is just as important as it is at the office, Ms. Hull said.
"The piece that I think that we tend to forget a lot," she said, is that employees also have roles that include spouse, mother, father, community volunteer and others. "That piece is important when disaster strikes. These people have lives that are not going on in your daily business."
When a disaster occurs, the personal and business roles come together, Ms. Hull pointed out. "And the question is: Are they going to converge or are they going to conflict? If you don't plan ahead, I guarantee you they are going to conflict," she said.
Chevron makes sure employees understand first that their personal preparedness is their own responsibility. "We burst a lot of bubbles for them. The first time we talk to them, we tell them that preparedness is their problem. Nobody at work is going to do it for them," Ms. Hull said.
"We tell them it's up to them to have some water under their desk. It's up to them to have some snack food in their desk. We are not going to give them a magic kit" filled with supplies to help them through a disaster, Ms. Hull explained.
Chevron's operations in San Francisco employ 10,000 and the company spends a lot of time educating workers on earthquake preparedness, she said. Much of the preparations are useful if other disasters, such as fires or mudslides, strike.
In addition to taking responsibility to prepare for disasters at work, Chevron urges workers to make sure preparations are done at home. "Family preparedness allows peace of mind and rapid return to work," Ms. Hull said.
She pointed out that an employee who is at work during a disaster and is worried about the safety of his or her family is "no good to anybody. . . .We want you at work, but we want you at work and confident that your family is OK."
To that end, Chevron encourages its employees to prepare for disasters in a program it calls "Do One Thing." The program is designed to help families get ready for an earthquake or other disaster without getting overwhelmed by the preparations.
"It gives people the motivation to continue their efforts" by doing one thing at a time and building momentum to finish a number of preparedness tasks, Ms. Hull explained.
While there may be a number of things to do to prepare for an earthquake, hurricane or other disaster, "pick one," Ms. Hull said. "It doesn't matter which one. . . .If you have nothing at home right now for an earthquake and you go out and get a flashlight, you are now 100% better off than you were yesterday."
To encourage employees to move slowly but steadily, Chevron provides them a Family Disaster Supplies Calendar that helps workers and their families assemble, over a six-month period, the supplies they will need if disaster strikes. The calendar details a few supplies to buy each week and a few tasks to complete.
That way, the expense of supplies and tasks such as videotaping the contents of the home for insurance purposes are spread over several weeks. Ms. Hull said she and other Chevron employees bought everything on the list in a trial run and found the total cost to be about $400.
Chevron also hopes to ease employees' minds during a disaster with an emergency communications operation it calls the Rally Plan.
Sixteen sites were identified in the San Francisco Bay Area where employees and family members can check in if an earthquake disrupts communications. Employee volunteers will staff the sites, which are either Chevron facilities or public areas, and will set up communications stations. Employees and family members can check in at the closest sites during a disaster.
Using palm-sized computers that have cellular modems, the volunteers staffing the stations will transmit to each other lists of names of those who have checked in. Employees and their families can check the lists to find out if family members are accounted for.
"You can be reasonably assured that if your family checked in. . .then they're pretty much OK," Ms. Hull remarked. "And you don't have to worry about it."
Vicki E. Schleimer, corporate claims specialist at Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. in Houston, moderated the session.