Event Management - Recovery After Disaster
Pre-disaster best practices for companies include: preparing and testing a BC/DR Plan, including event-specific plans within the BC/DR Plan, and building relationships and accessing disaster tools early. Disaster relief best practices include: leveraging virtualization technologies, communicating with clients and providing them with continued care, addressing employee and business needs, and providing targeted giving toward emergency response efforts. Post-disaster best practices include: continued leveraging of virtualization technologies, rewarding client, partner, and employee loyalty, and continuing to provide post-relief support.
Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) has identified three stages of disaster preparedness and response (and related information/tactics) as a means to help “prepare and support corporate social responsibility (CSR) practitioners in their efforts to contribute to disaster relief preparedness and response.” The three stages are: Preparedness, Relief, and Reconstruction, and they have been applied as an organizational outline in this report.
Notably, this report focuses briefly on the first stage, and more heavily on the second and third stages. This is due to two facts: [A] most information focuses on the first stage, so there is plenty of readily available information if more than a brief overview is needed, and [B] COVID-19 has already been identified as a pandemic and businesses have shut down or are shutting down all over the world (which means the disaster is currently happening now – Stage 2).
DISASTER STAGE: PREPAREDNESS (PRE-DISASTER)
- Most public information on disaster recovery for businesses focus on the pre-disaster or “Preparedness” stage, which occurs before a disaster has taken place, though some of the best practices can be employed even after the disaster has occurred.
Operations Best Practice: Prepare a Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery Plan (BC/DR)
- Well beforehand (if possible), prepare a Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) Plan that includes a wide selection of business aspects, as noted by multiple experts. According to RT Insights, “preparation is the only true way to avert or minimize disasters and ensure that business operations can continue.” Look at these plans as means to save the business during a serious economic crunch.
- A sound BC/DR Plan should identify key business areas and critical functions that may be affected by various disasters, means of mitigating risk where possible, and an outline of steps to take if / when disaster strikes. RT Insights states that all companies should “determine the downtime that will be acceptable for your business and outline your plans for maintaining operations in each critical business function or area using Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) and Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) as your key measurements for success.”
- The plan should have a consistent focus, all staff members should be aware of and trained on the plan, and the plan (and its components) should be fully accessible even in the event of office closure. The plan should be kept current, including any changes in production, staff, or outcome, and should be pre-tested (well before disaster strikes, if possible) to identify flaws or possible points-of-issue (and be able to address them appropriately) prior to finding out the hard way (after the disaster). SonicWall notes that “training and simulations are required to successfully implement a plan; without them, it’s just a piece of paper.”
- The plan should also include provisions for secondary data protections and automated back-ups of company-essential work and files. These back-ups should be off-site, preferably cloud-based (or easily accessible from remote locations by all employees), and should be in place and in use well before any type of disaster is on the horizon.
- Other BC/DR Plan best practices can be found through Biz Journals, Forbes, and LightEdge.
Operations Best Practice: Prepare Event-Specific BC/DR Plans
- For event planners, the BC/DR should also include any provisions for events that are currently scheduled and may be interrupted or need to be postponed due to the disaster. This plan and any updates need to be added to the event’s webpage. Bizzabo notes that best practices for this plan include coordinating with local health officials and relief organizations, coordinating with event venues, determining steps necessary to identify and/or isolate attendees with either elevated risk (or showing symptoms), circulating virus prevention literature at the event, and ensuring adequate hand-washing and sanitizing supplies are available to all vendors, attendees, and event staff.
- Event planners should maintain a website-based update log for organizers, vendors, and attendees. Best practices for this include providing data/updates demonstrating an active monitoring of the situation, sharing current information from health officials on the log, sharing prep-plan updates, and if necessary, directing the “audience to other updates or preparedness plan pages if applicable.”
- Proactively updating attendees of an event is also of key importance; this can be done through the web log and via direct emails or push notifications, as well as via social media channels. Sharing best practices include ensuring updates are frequent (and follow current health official guidelines), reiterating prep-plan and general preparedness of the company, and directing audiences to other prep-plan pages, as needed.
- If the event is not postponed, ensuring that health and safety rules are established and that all staff, vendors, and guests follow these guidelines is also important. One example of a company’s event guidelines include “no handshakes,” “no sniffles, and mandatory thermal screening for fevers,” and directives to “wash, wash, wash” to maintain sanitary conditions. Best practices for this include notifying event guests/personnel well in advance of restrictions, rules, and guidelines, having a “clear (and generous) refund/registration transfer policy in place” in the event an attendee is barred from the event due to the health restrictions, and being very very clear with the language of the restrictions (and the enforcement on those rules).
- Pre-event steps should also include creating as sanitary/clean of an event environment as possible. Best practices include providing attendees/staff/vendors with hand sanitizer at the beginning of the event, as well as posting it in easy-to-find locales (a lot of them) throughout the event location, wiping down community items (like microphones for speakers), signage with reminders of health rules and best practices, and potentially asking attendees to sign waivers (to release the company of responsibility for potential health issues) upon their arrival on-site.
- If the indicators show that the event is likely to be canceled or postponed, consider having a plan in place that allows the event to move to a completely digital space. Best practices for this include being prepared ahead of time with technology needs, communicating the change to stakeholders and all parties involved across a wide variety of channels, and strategizing / coordinating with guest speakers, vendors, and service providers to present remotely.
- If there is no way to keep the event scheduled, it cannot be done virtually, and it must be postponed or canceled, follow these best practices. First, prove (via communications and updates) that the company has been closely-monitoring the disaster and “frame the decision as being in the best interest of your attendees, speakers, and partners.” Second, reach out to attendees a minimum of one week (if possible) before the event with postponement or cancellations notices; waiting too long might cause some attendees to travel in from out-of-town costing them more money. Third, work with the venue to see if the cancellation is covered, or if fees are involved, and cooperate on finding a solution that works best for both parties.
- Event Brite recommends ways for companies to “bounce back after postponing” or canceling an event. They recommend getting “creative in thinking of ways you can thank your guests for their patience.” Ideas include giving discounts to the next scheduled event, offering complimentary food and/or beverages to those who sign up for the new date, offering reserved seating to loyal guests, and partnering with sponsors to provide “VIP gift bags to the people impacted by the change.” (Also see "Reward Loyalty" best practice later in this report)
- One example of an event / on-site preparedness plan comes from HIMSS20, and can be found here; they replaced the HIMSS 2020 Global Health Conference & Exhibition (an in-person event) with a fully digital event. Multiple examples of how leading brands handling postponing major events can be found here.
- MPI provides insights into what specific event planners did to mitigate event issues during and after Hurricane Irma; this might be an invaluable source for even more information.
Social Responsibility Best Practice: Build Relationships & Access Tools Early
- The best time to prepare for a disaster is before it happens, and this also applies to social responsibility practices. Before the disaster (or in its early phases), connect with and build relationships with disaster relief organizations (locally, nationwide, and globally – depending on the company’s regional scope); this includes organizations that collect resources prior to an impending disaster.
- Accessing disaster preparedness tools, like the IFRC’s disaster preparedness programming page will also help ensure companies are prepared for what might happen during a major disaster event.
DISASTER STAGE: RELIEF (DURING DISASTER & SHORTLY THEREAFTER)
- As a disaster hits and the first few days, weeks, or months that follow is considered the “Relief” Stage; during this time, citizen and corporate protections are in place and everyone is waiting to understand just how bad the disaster will be. Additionally, relief efforts go into full swing and affected populations and companies move toward immediately rebuilding what was lost.
Operations Best Practice: Leverage Virtualization Technologies
- For both clients and employees, ensuring a continuous experience (that appears seamless and without interruption) is the best hope, while managing this to some extent is the likely reality. Providing clients with a secondary (back-up) environment (like a website or user portal) is essential; if this cannot be done, communicating to clients what to do in most cases (through an FAQ page, as an example) is recommended, as well as providing them with expected return-of-full-service time estimates.
- For employees, companies should ensure that all employees can be granted remote access to the intranet, their company email boxes, and messaging / communication sites used by the company, and that remote desktops and phone access are set up well beforehand, if possible. Provide FAQs and how-to guides for employees new to working-at-home, and offer regular check-ins with supervisors to ensure employees are staying focused and work-tasks are being accomplished within prescribed timeframes. Lastly, providing new work-at-home employees with a best practices list of how to manage their time with families at home is recommended.
Clients Best Practice: Communicate & Provide Continued Care
- This involves three basic strategies: communicating with clients, helping local clients, and ensuring business continuity. First, communicating with clients about the status of the business through the disaster, immediately following the event, and for the months following is very important. They need to be made aware that the company is current with updates (from local health or law enforcement officials), is complying with mandates, and is prepared to conduct business-as-usual (as much as can be expected based on the disaster, of course).
- Next, coordinating with local relief efforts (or with partners/vendors/stakeholders) to provide care and necessities to clients that have been affected by the event is recommended. These local humanitarian efforts will go a long way in providing assistance not only to clients (who will be very grateful and loyal), but also in rebuilding the entire community, which is what is most needed during these times of crisis.
- Lastly, providing business continuity to all customers is key. This may mean running a skeleton crew for a while (because employees are displaced or business needs are significantly reduced), so communicating this to clients is essential in helping them have accurate expectations of services during this time.
Employees Best Practice: Communicate, Facilitate, Encourage, Address, Coordinate
- Employees are often the most worried about what will happen to their jobs (and their families) during and after a disaster strikes. Effective strategies aimed at supporting employees during these difficult times focus on communicating, facilitating changes and options, encouraging giving and receiving, addressing needs, and coordinating toward quicker recovery for all.
- First and foremost, communicating with employees – to ensure they are alright and have what they need, as well as to “be the voice of reason and source of comfort” – is essential. They want to know what’s happening with the offices, with the business, and with their own positions, so clarifying these aspects should come first. This communication should come through employees’ preferred communications channels (emails, push notifications, calls), as well as across all public channels (website, social media, etc). Check in regularly with updates and keep messages concise with ultra-clear directives or next steps.
- Some key aspects to communicate are: office hours, if modified, issues with the office location (if any), road and infrastructure conditions near the workplace, work-location flexibility (work-from-home opportunities), means to log time worked or on PTO, considerations for children of employees (if in-office care is acceptable on days schools are closed), how often to update / check-in with supervisors, and dress codes (if adjusted from the usual dress protocol).
- Additionally, if company personnel is reduced to a skeleton crew, understand and make provisions for that crew getting overworked, and ensure that safeguards are built in to keep them healthy, happy, and not feeling undue stress (in addition to the immense stress caused by the event itself).
- If the company can, it should organize and facilitate recovery assistance for employees. This could include using employee assistance-designated funds, providing food or shelter support, and providing connections with local agencies for relief aid. Additionally, the company should coordinate volunteer efforts asking employees that were not greatly affected to offer time and assistance to those more significantly affected, or by putting up an easy way to donate to aid efforts (like a button on the website).
- Coordinating with local relief aid organizations to provide volunteers for community relief efforts is also recommended. Notably, experts state that the company should take a stance that encourages “gracious receiving” by those employees in-need. This can be difficult for those who’ve needed very little help before this and for natural givers. One way to do this is to “remind those who need extra support that being a gracious recipient will not only help them work through their own trauma, but also gives volunteers and donors a sense of purpose and fulfillment.” This helps keep teams strong and unified during a time when that is most needed.
- Addressing employee needs includes addressing survivor’s guilt, which may occur during disasters (and should be expected in this current pandemic considering estimated deaths), is also paramount. Help employees deal with this guilt and the distractions caused by trauma by providing mental health and emotional support bases, and by encouraging them to talk about their issues toward finding viable solutions to help them (and others) recover; this might include focusing their energies on volunteering to help others still in need.
Social Responsibility Best Practice: Targeted Giving for Emergency Response
- Immediately after a disaster has occurred, like a major hurricane for example, relief aid groups mobilize and begin providing emergency response services; these include things like “healthcare, nutrition, water, sanitation, temporary shelter, search and rescue, communications.” During this time, companies should gather facts of the damage and what needs to be done, identify the areas in which the company wishes to assist/offer aid, determine what type of aid the company should offer (based on biggest identified needs), and develop a specific section of their business continuity plan to highlight the company’s “giving platforms and communicate your action plan to employees.”
- Companies also should seek out relief partners (from their client/partner/vendor networks and/or disaster relief organizations) and stakeholders and begin carrying out the designated company/partner relief actions. Social media reporting strategies should be developed in coordination with this so that efforts and contributions can be highlighted for the public and tracked for success (and social responsibility reporting).
- Additionally, researching giving benchmarks for similar disasters (or benchmarks for current giving) should be part of the internal action plan to inform decision-making. There are resources available to help with this, and a short list can be found here.
- Since lack of coordination of relief services is often the biggest complaint of agencies after disasters, ensuring that proper organization of any company (and partner) efforts is handled well is important; more information on maximizing impact through strategic coordination can be found here.
DISASTER STAGE: RECONSTRUCTION (3 MONTHS POST-DISASTER)
- The “Reconstruction” Stage after a disaster begins after the emergency and first-relief needs have been addressed; this phase includes necessary infrastructure rebuilding and helping communities get fully back on their feet after the tragedy they’ve suffered. About three months after a disaster is time to initiate post-disaster relief efforts and provide organizations with more support. By this point, “initial relief funds may be depleted, yet needs may still be great.”
Operations Best Practice: Leverage Virtualization Technologies
- Continue with best practices (mentioned previously) on leveraging virtualization technologies for both clients and employees.
Clients, Partners, Employees Best Practice: Reward Loyalty
- Reward clients who weather-the-disaster-storm and remain loyal with special rewards as things are settling down and getting back to normal. Thank you / appreciation tokens go a long way in keeping clients loyal. Several examples of brands offering loyalty rewards after recent disasters can be found here from LoyaltyTruth.
- Rewarding partners and employees who stayed loyal, provided extra support, or who helped keep the company moving during the downtime is also recommended. Survey stakeholders to discover the types of rewards they would find most-rewarding and show appreciation for their loyalty and efforts.
Social Responsibility Best Practice: Providing Post-Relief Efforts
- Socially-responsible companies have three items to address in this stage: [A] Providing continued support toward post-relief efforts, [B] compiling data on relief aid efforts-to-date, and [C] adjusting action plans for future disasters based on lessons learned from the current one.
- Toward providing continued support, companies should strategize with relief-partners to see what help is still needed and how the company/partners can continue to participate in the ways that best move recovery forward.
- Toward compiling data, companies should compile and analyze data on the efforts they’ve undertaken to this point, and present this information to clients (and potential clients), stakeholders, and the public via social media. The social media channels to utilize should have been laid out in one of the previous stages, and that action plan should be put into effect.