Heat Related Impacts to Emergency Management and Business Continuity

Welcome back!

First and foremost, thanks to the great folks at the Disaster Resource Guide (www.disaster-resource.com ) for mentioning my blog in their “e-Continuity” Newsletter.  As a result, I’ve seen a significant jump in readership.  I hope everyone reading my blog is enjoying my writing and finding it helpful.  If there’s something you’d like me to write about, please comment on this blog or drop me an e-mail at tjb0000@swbell.net .

Second, the folks at the Disaster Recovery Journal (www.DRJ.com ) just published an article I wrote titled “Are you prepared to lead?”  The article addresses leadership in crisis situations.  I hope you’ll look for the article in the Summer 2011 edition that’s now out.  Thank you DRJ!  On a related note, I recently agreed to facilitate a workshop at the upcoming DRJ Fall World 2011 Conference in San Diego, CA.  I’ve been asked to speak on the subject of incorporating the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) into business continuity.  If you are planning to be at the conference, let’s connect.

I hope wherever you are it’s somewhat cooler and less humid than it is here in the St. Louis area.

See the photo of the Arch that was posted by Westplex 100.7 FM ( www.facebook.com/pages/Westplex-1007-FM/224311280554 ).

Too funny!  But really, the heat has been a concern from both an emergency management and business continuity perspective.  Emergency managers are working to ensure cooling centers are up and running as well as generate community awareness about the effects of heat not only in the urban and suburban areas but also in the rural areas in dealing with livestock.  In business continuity, we not only have to deal with the people issue (especially when our employees work outside) but we also have to worry about potential infrastructure issues such as the damaging impacts on water, power, HVAC.

Down in South Texas, residents actually looked forward to the arrival of Tropical Storm Don.  Emergency managers along the Gulf Coast typically don’t welcome severe weather, but with more than 90 percent of Texas in extreme or exceptional drought, there was barely concealed excitement among them.  The only people who may have hoped Tropical Storm Don missed them were the cotton farmers (business) in the midst of harvesting their crop within the next two weeks.

Psychological effects of heat

In a 1998 article titled “Heat can have psychological effects”  by Dr. Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D., Dr. LeCrone indicates that many mental health professionals believe that there is a correlation between those exposed to prolonged heat and lower frustration tolerance, irritability, and anger. Those individuals working in activities which require physical exertion, attention to small details, and exposure to other stressful elements in their work environment such as noise, dust, etc., may experience even more difficulty when the temperature is elevated.  It’s not a giant leap to understand how this could negatively impact business operations say in a manufacturing environment or even a call center (dealing with customers).

Activities which help individuals deal with stress, including recreation and hobbies, often have to be diverted, postponed, or altered in some fashion during periods of excessive heat. For example, those who enjoy gardening may find that the prolonged heat dramatically alters this activity and takes away an enjoyable, healthy diversion. Many outdoor sporting events have to be curtailed or otherwise modified to prevent negative medical consequences. The elderly and those with certain medical conditions affected by heat have to be especially cautious about the length of time they spend in elevated temperatures.

So what can a business do to help employees at work?  The following are a few ideas that can be implemented rather easily:

  • Cool the air in your building or business. Even a few hours spent in an air-conditioned setting can greatly reduce your employees’ risk of heat illness. If employees work primarily outside or as drivers, provide on-site shaded rest areas or require that air conditioning be used in vehicles
  • Adjust the work schedules of employees who work outdoors to accommodate time to rest from the summer heat. Postpone nonessential tasks to cooler times of the day
  • Ensure employees are drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated. Water helps cool the body as temperatures rise. Supply
    buildings and work sites with water and advise drivers to keep bottled water handy
  • Ask employees to wear proper summer clothing and/or sunscreen to protect against the heat and sun. Lightweight light-colored
    clothing is best, as it reflects both heat and sunlight
  • If possible, use reflective construction material on your property and plant vegetation that will protect your facility from the sun. For example, use a reflective material on the roof or plant trees that provide shade for a natural cooling effect
  • Develop an emergency plan or written procedure regarding heat illness and educate your employees regarding how to prevent,
    recognize and respond to it
  • Ensure that all work sites and workers are equipped with the proper tools (e.g., cell phones) to make emergency calls
  • Should an employee become ill, be sure they are promptly treated by a medical professional

Be sure to check out the American Red Cross website for good information about “How to Recognize and Treat Heat Emergencies”  (www.redcross.org/images/pdfs/code/Heat_Emergencies.pdf )

Working from home

Working from home, also known as telecommuting, is not a new strategy but one that’s been developing over the years.  Most recently, it was viewed as THE key strategy in pandemic planning.  But why not consider it in other situations like severe weather?   If possible, when weather conditions make getting to work hazardous, you could allow employees to do what work they can from home.  Employees should still contact you first to agree what work they will do and how this will be monitored.  To make this possible, you’ll more than likely need to provide your employees with remote IT access.

Creating a ‘bad weather’ policy

And although we are focused on our current hot weather, it won’t be long before we are complaining about the cold, snow, and ice.  Ge’ez, are we ever satisfied?

To prepare for future occurrences of bad weather (cold or heat) and other disruptions to your business, it may help to create a ‘bad weather’ policy. Key issues to consider include:

  •  How the company will react to bad weather and what employees can expect from you
  • Whether you will pay employees who can’t attend work because of the weather
  • Whether any roles can be carried out from home and what IT support is required
  • What you expect from your staff – i.e. that they shouldn’t endanger themselves but should make reasonable and safe efforts to get in
  • Who staff should contact in the event that they can’t make it in or who to notify that they will be working from home
  • If the weather is so bad that you cannot open your premises, who will notify staff

And remember, after working with your other corporate stakeholder groups like HR, Facilities, and IT to develop a ‘bad weather’ policy, the policy should be included in your company’s business continuity plan.

Well, try to stay cool and remember to hydrate.  Until next time, my best wishes.

Interesting article on Yahoo (think Twinkies and things for my 72-hour kit) –  “Foods With the Longest Expiration Dates”;


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