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Act Quickly

Originally published
Originally published: 8/1/2015

Why your HR Department should lead your emergency response team.


According to the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, the industry employs more than 1.3 million people in the United States and Canada, and predicts another 86,000 jobs will be necessary by 2018.

It is a workforce that has been largely comprised of mobile technicians and contractors long before the remote worker trend became fashionable in other industries. As this workforce grows, so too does the risk of an accident or another emergency.

Working with electricity, water supplies, chemicals and heavy equipment are daily tasks, so HVACR technicians face many hazards, including electrical shock, burns or serious injuries from working with heavy equipment.

Even the best-trained and most careful technician is not immune to accidents, and a company must be prepared to quickly and effectively respond to an accident that endangers the security and well-being of an employee and/or the general public.

In the past, the facilities manager or on-site security staff bore that responsibility, but in many organizations that’s no longer the case.

Human resources (HR) is increasingly the lead on developing and implementing a crisis communications plan. Because it is the first line of communication, that responsibility includes overseeing the implementation and management of a unified communications system that uses redundant modalities including mobile and smartphones, IP phones, social media, email, PCs, etc. to ensure reliable communication and coordination with multiple internal and external parties.

The Shift to HR

There is always a human side to an accident or other crisis, particularly if an employee is injured. Addressing that factor is just as important in overall crisis management planning as the need to focus on systems, operations, infrastructure and public relations.

HR is better positioned than any other business unit to handle that “people factor” and ensure it is not neglected.

Crisis management planning and response is, therefore, a responsibility that HR must share with other appropriate business units because it is the primary caretaker of employee welfare and motivation, especially as the number of remote employees continues to increase. There are a number of other reasons, including:

  • In corporate crises, departmental and/or geographical emergency mass notification is inefficient.
  • Emergency response policies and procedures need to be developed and deployed company-wide. HR is uniquely positioned to do exactly that.
  • When personnel move departments, they can be confused about emergency protocol. Centralization of procedures via HR can increase clarity.
  • To maximize reaction to and recovery from emergencies, companies need comprehensive post-crisis analysis. That requires a common set of data and reports, which HR can readily facilitate.
  • Data accuracy is critical to alerting personnel. Typically, HR’s data repository is the most comprehensive and reliable source of information.

What is the Plan?

There is a significant amount of work that goes into preparing for the unexpected. The top priorities are to assemble the appropriate team and set policies and procedures to address all possible scenarios.

For example, if there are injuries or even a fatality, who notifies the injured or dead employees’ next of kin? Is HR even trained to do that? Can the team that may be sent to the scene of an accident receive hazardous duty pay? What training and certification processes should they complete? These are the kinds of questions that must be settled before an emergency strikes.

The crisis management team is responsible for formulating the policies that will be followed during the crisis, they must consider all options and come up with contingency plans. It should be multi-departmental and include the following positions:

  • Team leader: Coordinates the activities, which will be carried out during the crisis, and assigning this role to HR is becoming increasingly common.
  • HR manager: Works to resolve the human issues created by the crisis.
  • Security director: Serves as primary information officer.
  • Lawyer: Provides legal counsel.
  • Public relations director: Conveys well-vetted information to the public, including the media, government officials and the community. You can imagine the complexities and logistics that must go into coordinating communications to all of these groups and personnel, in addition to outside agencies such as emergency responders.

For this reason, another critical component of the preparedness plan is to ensure the organization’s communications system is the implementation of interactive crisis communication systems.

These advanced systems let organizations safeguard personnel and the public from a wide spectrum of threats and natural disasters as well as, providing a means of quickly and securely notifying the appropriate leadership team members within the organization to react to and recover from the emergency at hand.

There are a number of systems available, and the most effective will include the following features and capabilities:

  • Internal and external communica-tions: Power interactive, closed-loop communications for collaborative crisis management and facilitate coordination with police and fire departments, paramedics and appropriate government agencies.
  • Provide rich media content: Supplying photos, videos and maps to enable 360-degree situational awareness and visibility among teams is critical to an efficient, well-coordinated response.
  • Real-time feedback from the field: Bring vital insights to the emergency operations center. Emergency management and first responders issue immediate warnings and instructions about threats and highlight areas to avoid.
  • Provide links to critical emergency procedures: Give your employees immediate access to information that can help ensure their safety.
  • Provide geographic-specific alerting and tracking of employees.

Of course, budgets are not unlimited, so cost must also be a key consideration. Fortunately, there is a variety of options: on-premise only, cloud-only and even a hybrid configuration. Each model offers its own cost and management benefits.

Importantly, these sophisticated systems ensure authoritative, accurate, immediate warnings through virtually any device and communication platform:

  • Mobile phone
  • Tablet
  • Laptop computer
  • Desktop computer
  • Mobile application
  • IP phone
  • Email
  • Text message
  • Lync messenger
  • Digital display interface
  • Pager
  • Internal and external public address systems

Note the importance of incorporating a wide range of mobile devices that can receive emails, texts and voice calls over cellular or IP networks, etc. Mobile apps can play a key role in effective response.

These powerful, interactive new apps offer 24/7, touch-of-a-button protection for both workers and contractors — anywhere, anytime, on any device. The best of them feature:

  • Check-in/check-out and tracking, to let everybody know remote employee location and status. They’ll never feel alone or detached from their support system.
  • Emergency alert capabilities.
  • Instant notification of supervisory personnel.
  • Remote duress reporting, which empowers workers to dial 911 in one touch, enter text about an emergency situation, attach photos, voice and video and send geo-location information. These alerts and geographical visualization of activities then appear as pop-up notifications on supervisors’ desktops.

Importantly, these sophisticated new apps aren’t only for the technician in the field to send information back to the home office. They also enable supervisors to play a more proactive role in worker safety by:

  • Routing a worker to job sites based on location and proximity.
  • Reducing employee admin burden by automating timekeeping.
  • Recording visit occurrences for billing and delivery audits.
  • Viewing interaction via geo-located pinpoints overlaid on a map.

HR professionals who understand the business and employees’ concerns can only facilitate the support and commitment that an organization will need from its employees during and after a crisis.

This requires working with other business units, particularly IT, on implementing a unified communications platform that provides for secure and reliable communications among appropriate employees and external parties such as emergency responders and government officials.


Karen Garavatti is vice president of human resources for AtHoc, Inc. AtHoc enables organizations to communicate with their people through numerous devices, and empowers organizations to create their own permission-based network to establish interoperable communication with other organizations in their community. For additional information, visit


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