For years, I have covered disasters and have written about contingency planning for catastrophes. To stay open in the aftermath of a disaster, experts have advised organizations to go beyond protecting their physical property.
Companies need to make sure their employees are safe and that they also have a way to get into the office or business, especially if their cars are destroyed or if public transportation is down.
Most employees also won’t make it in if they are concerned about their families – say the house has no heat or water, or food isn’t available in the vicinity and schools are closed.
I have also wondered just how many companies actually include plans to see that employees’ needs are met; and how many follow through on their plans. In fact, how many companies have even mapped where employees live and have phone numbers readily available in an emergency?
While visiting my bank in Manhattan recently, which happens to be JPMorgan Chase, I had an interesting conversation with a young woman who was helping me. We discussed – as New Yorkers invariably do – our means of transportation into Manhattan every day. Then we talked about the ways our commutes were changed after Superstorm Sandy.
Not only was it impossible for her to get into the office because trains and subways were down, she said, but the electricity in her home was out. This had many repercussions, including lack of heat and food.
Unlike many companies, faced with closed branch banks when people needed access, Chase chose not to passively wait for employees to get back to work whenever they could. The company provided transportation to pick up employees and take them to work, according to the employee I spoke to.
The company also provided them with food, and those who had no home to go back to were put up in hotels, she said. This was all corroborated by a Chase spokesperson. The list went on and on, including taking care of children whose schools were closed through its backup childcare program, and helping employees find automobiles when theirs were destroyed.
A friend of hers who worked for a competing bank was out of luck and also unable to get to work, she added. His company did nothing to help employees.
In any case, she said she is grateful to be working for a company that took such good care of her in a time of need.
David Ingram, executive vice president of reinsurance broker U.S. Willis Re talked about company resilience in an interview for a CFO article after Superstorm Sandy.
After Sandy, he said, a number of companies “thought they had things taken care of,” believing their employees would be able to work from home in the aftermath of a disaster.
But the two days planned for the disaster typically turned into a week – on top of the fact that many employees did not have electricity for their laptops and could not recharge their cell phones, and at the same time were dealing with damage to their own homes, Ingram observed, urging companies to “rethink their strategies in order to stay operative after a disaster.”
All in all, those corporations that do set up a resilient foundation “may wind up being the most successful companies in their sectors,” Ingram pointed out.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune of Oct. 30, 2012, some of the 1,050 Chase branches in the New York City area were open over the weekend, but all were closed on Tuesday after Sandy hit on Monday, bringing flooding that crippled New York’s subway system and closed financial markets for two days.
Chase’s initial goal was to reopen 100 or so branches that the bank previously identified as hub locations. These locations also had to be within reach of enough employees to staff them.
The bank had hundreds of people inspecting buildings and hundreds more trying to reach employees to learn who would be able to get to work, Emmett Vollenweider executive vice president, customer and retail Support of JPMorgan Chase & Co., told the Tribune.
Here’s what Chase did for its employees, according to an email from the company:
Announced a corporate employee assistance program. Employees experiencing financial hardship were able to request up to $1,500 in emergency funds by calling a newly established hardship hotline.
Facilitated employee-to-employee giving. Established an Employee Hardship Fund where any employee can contribute to the fund and all of the donations go to other employees in need. JPMC matches those donations up to $1 million. The company also matches employee donations made to the American Red Cross, United Way or World Vision and a $2 million direct donation was made to the American Red Cross.
Transportation for employees/employee shift share. Shuttled employees into Manhattan for work from their home neighborhoods. Also brought in branch employees from other regions throughout the U.S. to fill-in for employees that were hit hard, or who were in need of a break.
Employee auto loss. Chase helped employees who lost cars as a result of the storm to obtain auto loans on favorable terms.
For all the negative press the company has received in recent years, this is a positive action that other organizations might heed. Not only have companies like Chase kept their doors open by having such in-depth contingency planning intact, but after it all, their employees are more loyal than those left to fend for themselves.