6 Ways Employers Can Help Employees When Disaster Strikes

Creating a Disaster Plan for Employers and Employees

*Note: This is an older post but still relevant for employers who have employees who might be impacted by natural disaster whether it’s tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, or something else, it’s important to have a strategy and plan.

It’s been 8 days since the tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, the town that I call home. I’m not going to lie. It has rocked me to the core as May 20th, 2013 will be a date that forever lives in my mind. Not that it didn’t already. May 20th is Greg and I’s wedding anniversary. On May 20, 2013, my family and I had just 16 minutes to react to seek shelter and take cover from the tornado that pretty much leveled my town. You can read about it here. I was one of the lucky ones. My house remains in tact with only trash in the yard. It’s one block from the devastation. Unfortunately, my storage unit, didn’t fair as much. It was leveled, but we were able to salvage some items and treasures with the help of some fabulous friends over the weekend. I can’t complain though as my family and our home is safe, happy and healthy. Thousands of Moore and Oklahoma City residents were not so lucky.

Developing Employer Emergency Action Plan After Disaster Strikes

Employees who were impacted from the storm here are getting back to the grind. My friend Tasha, who lost her home is returning to work today so she can pay her bills while squeezing in time to be a mom, rebuild her home and maintain a sense of sanity. Another friend, Jon who also lost his home was with his wife and family at the hospital. His wife just gave birth to a baby the week before. If it wasn’t for their little one being in the NICU, they would have been home during the deadly storm. Jon actually watched his home be leveled from the comforts of the hospital via live television. Imagine the feeling. What can and should an employer do to develop an action plan in the event of an employee emergency?

Communicate Timely and Effectively. 

My home phone and internet were out for 3 days here at the house and cell phone use was very unreliable if it worked at all. Friends and family members were unable to locate Tasha for nearly a day. I watched Facebook closely as that was my direct connection to her during the storm, and until someone posted on her profile page, I feared the worst. I recommend using text messages to communicate with staff who was impacted by the storm as they are more reliable. Employers should designate a home base for employers and staff to communicate and engage that can be accessed externally in the event employees cannot access email or VPN. 

Update Your Employee Information Updated Quarterly. 

Your communication strategy is only as good as the phone numbers and employee information you have. Make it a regular habit to make employees update their personal information including mailing address, physical address and cell phone regularly. This ensures that employees can be located in the event of a disaster or emergency.

Plan Ahead How to Help. 

The recovery and rebuilding effort is a long process for people’s homes who were leveled. Jon’s employer put him up in a hotel indefinitely until they can locate a temporary home. Employees of this employer will expect similar or equal treatment so it’s best to plan and discuss options before it happens. The coverage of the tornado was a global event with media and press covering the disaster from across every country imaginable. Employees from outside Oklahoma or the affected area will want to do their part too. I encourage employers to create planned opportunities for employees to help. Gift registries seem to be one of the easiest for employees outside of the impacted area allowing purchased to be shipped directly to the address of the impacted employee’s choosing.

Respect Privacy. 

Not every employee wants to be in the spotlight like this. Check in with the employees affected and ask for their permission to share information to the company while creating an easy way for employees to help those impacted by the disaster. Wait to talk to your employee before you make a formal announcement in your workplace and realize that the impacted employee is overwhelmed and will continue to be for many months to come.

Allow for Schedule Flexibility.

Employees impacted by disaster will have various appointments and meetings they will need to attend in the coming months likely during regular working hours. Employers and managers need to be prepared to offer a pre-determined and discussed level of schedule flexibility before the disaster happens. Managers must sit down with the impacted employees as soon as they return to work to discuss expectations, time duration and help available. What should the manager and employee expect? As an employer, don’t add to the already high stress level of losing a home to getting fired from their job.

Create a Disaster Packet for Impacted Employees. 

Due to the spotty phone and access to Internet combined with the shock of loosing a home, information and resources for impacted individuals is hard to process and organize. I recommend aggregating, collecting and creating a packet of information for the employees affected. Employers can collect and research important numbers for employees impacted by the disaster, government programs and other grants to help them organize their future plans of action after the reality settles in.

How Should an Employer Respond to an Employee  or Community Disaster?

As an employer, what steps have you taken to help employees impacted by a disaster whether it’s natural or otherwise? Is there a best practice or program that worked for you? As an employee, what would you like to see your employer do? Leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation flowing with our employees, other employers and communities before it happens.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. jen says

    Hey girl – I appreciate the link and photo credit. Most people just swipe and steal. I’m still a huge fan of your blog – even if I don’t always comment, I always read. xoxo. Glad you and yours are OK from the storm.



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