Human Resources Department – Crisis Planning

Does your organisation have departmental crisis plans?

In a typical organisation there is a single crisis management plan and possibly a crisis communications plan.  But even the latter is not really a plan for the communications department but more a directory of just-in-case media statements and lines-to-take etc.  

But maybe communications is a topic for another day.  

This article concerns the most important asset for any company – people.  It stands to reason that there would be a crisis plan for people, doesn’t it?  In 20 years, I have come across only one company, a Texas oil company, that had a plan for the HR department.  As a planner, I guess I have failed miserably because I have yet to persuade any other client of the importance of this stand-alone document.  

The HR Crisis Plan sets out the instructions to the HR department on how it will work during an emergency and how it will manage the myriad of tasks associated with people.  While you are here, we may as well deal with the elephant that often sits in the corner (with apologies to international readers who may not understand this idiom) when considering the extent to which HR departments, in a crisis, are responsible for people.  I mean all people.  All those victims affected by the crisis either directly (employees), indirectly (contractors, employee families) or by association with your service or product (customers, customer families, general public).  This may be uncomfortable reading for some HR managers who consider HR is for employees; but in a crisis affecting people other than employees, what other department has the skill to shoulder this responsibility? 

At its heart, the HR plan will clearly define the various roles for the members of that department.  It will determine to what extent and how ‘normal business’ should continue and the additional resources and effort that will be brought to bear on the crisis-related tasks.  In training, the HR staff should all understand their duties in a crisis and have an expectation of the workload involved.

The detail of the plan is to explain how unusual or crisis-only tasks will be accomplished (regular blog readers will know how I am an advocate for explaining ‘how’ and not just ‘what’).

The framework you may wish to consider in your plan might include:


  • Differences from normal?
  • Additional staff required?  Where from?
  • Emergency recall of departmental staff
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Long-term issues management 

Establishment of a Central HR Call Centre??

  • Activation
  • Staff requirement and language capability
  • Scripts, forms and terms of reference for the operators
  • Publicizing the number
  • Managing the information (manual or electronic)
  • Guidelines for difficult situations
  • Exclusive line for family members following death or injury notification

Management of Fatalities

  • Liaison with embassies and consulates (for foreign nationals) (contact numbers as an Annex to the plan).
  • Methods and verification procedures for determining who has died
  • Providing ante-mortem information for use in identification
  • Procedures for funerals of victims
  • Procedures for repatriation of foreign victims

Management of Personal Effects

  • Retrieving personal effects from hospitals, morgues or emergency services.
  • Clearance of PE from work areas and desks etc
  • Identification of ownership, cataloguing and the claims process
  • Preparation of effects for return to families
  • Communicating with families to determine their wishes for the PE 
  • Return of PE to the families

Management of Injured or Displaced Victims

  • Liaison with embassies and consulates (for foreign nationals) 
  • Liaison with local hospitals
  • Procedure for meeting the immediate needs for health insurance certification or medical payments, for example
  • Identification procedures for those involved
  • Company visiting policy and procedures
  • Policy and procedures for gifts and flowers to hospitalized employees
  • Immediate and longer-term care policy and procedures
  • Repatriation of injured victims on release from hospital
  • Return to work policy and ongoing trauma support

Death or Injury Notification

  • Policy and procedure for family notification of death or injury
  • Who will do this?
  • How will this be achieved (ie in person, over the phone etc)?
  • Country by country exceptions (considering different legal positions, cultures, religions and languages)

Support for those Directly Affected (non-fatal or injured)

  • Policy for trauma support of company personnel
  • Details of the after-event employee support program.  What support is available, how is the support communicated, how is the support implemented

Support for Families

  • Immediate support procedures
  • Assisting family travel to support centres, hospitals, morgues, memorials or scene of the accident (travel, money, accommodation, company representation etc)
  • Establishment and manning of company family support centre when appropriate
  • Procedure for immediate hardship payments


  • Planning for company representation at an immediate memorial 
  • Tributes (noting family or local customs and religious preferences)
  • Permanent company memorial(s) 
  • Arrangements for one-year and subsequent anniversaries.

Local Community (Hearts and Minds Programme)

  • Community projects in areas suffering loss
  • Working with local community religious, cultural and political leaders.

Claims Management and Compensation/Pension Payments

  • Company policy
  • Insurance payments to employees, families or 3rd party claimants and ongoing insurance support to employees and families.
  • Probate
  • Actions in the event of unidentifiable or missing victims (ie where no death certificate can be issued)
  • Method of payments
  • Communicating with the families

Official Identity Document Recovery and Control

  • Control of personal documentation (ID cards, passports, employee records etc) and their use following an emergency (eg to assist employees or authorities when original documents have been lost in an incident).
  • Where are records held
  • Company policy for release of duplicates
  • National data protection legislation and implications for release of information

Information Management

  • Forms
  • Procedural guides for records and file management
  • Archiving
  • Release to external authorities
  • Internal release of information
  • Suspension of ‘normal’ communications to affected employees or family members (cancel newsletters, birthday cards, sports and entertainment publicity etc)

HR Role in Safety and Security

  • Post-event assessment of ongoing health, safety and security conditions in respect of company employees.
  • Determine conditions for safe return-to-work and procedure for communicating this to employees.
  • Determining alternative working arrangements
  • Procedure for provision of advice to responding agencies in respect of the hazards at a company incident site (dangerous goods for example). 

I hope that some of the above will be useful.