It Is Possible
Today is September 11, 2014.
It’s been 13 years since our nation awoke to terror.
Facebook today is filled with people sharing their memories of that day, and I have enjoyed reading these stories as each perspective, each insight and take-away is endearing, educational, motivational or all of the above.
I thought I’d share my story too, although here on my blog instead of merely on my FB wall. I hope my insights into the events of 9/11 may help other Human Resource professionals think differently about disasters, emergency management planning and workforce needs.
Alaskans are four hours behind East Coast residents, and so we awoke early to frantic “breaking news” stories, horrid pictures and videos, phone calls from friends and family, etc. I remember waking up to the incessant ringing of my phone…it was my sister, telling me to turn on the news and call her immediately.
Numb, that is the word I have to describe my feelings as I watched the news and the repeated videos of the planes crashing into the twin towers.
Steve, my husband at the time, kicked in and started making phone calls to our family on the east coast. They weren’t living or working in New York City but it was possible they were traveling there. They lived outside of DC, nowhere near the Pentagon, but it was possible they were near that area when terror hit our nation’s capital.
It was possible our family was hurt or hurting, and so we checked in.
I’m not that good at grace under pressure but around 7:00 am my time, I realized that it was possible people at work needed me.
Steve stayed home with our daughter and I went to work. I remember our town seemed like a ghost town…not that it was deserted but that everyone out that morning was in a fog. You could sense it at the lights when you glanced over to drivers, you could read it on the faces of passengers in cars as they stared out the windows. It was possible they, like me, were in shock.
I was the Human Resources Manager at the Department of Environmental Conservation at the time. As I drove into work, my thoughts were all over the place.
- I mentally made lists of everyone working for our agency who was on travel status.
- I tried to remember if there was anything “Environmental Conservation-like” occurring in the East Coast that would have our employees or any of our partner agencies attending.
- I clearly remember a recent conversation with one of our Directors about his son who had recently been deployed; I choked up and had to pull over because I couldn’t see through the tears in my eyes.
- I started drafting in my head an email to be sent to all staff regarding business travel, using PTO, etc.
- I subconsciously identified my own staff who could work that day and help and those who I instinctively knew would need to stay home with their families.
- I cursed myself for not having a plan in place for things like this.
It was a long, long drive to work.
Our office building was in downtown Anchorage…it was a simple 5 story building. Anyone who has been to Anchorage knows that we define a “high-rise” differently here…our tallest buildings downtown are less than 20 stories tall. I could see the majority of them, and their entrances/exits from my 5th floor office.
When I arrived at work, I sent an email to all Directors and travel clerks to identify who was on travel status so we could ensure they were 1) safe, 2) had resources necessary to stay put and 3) had resources necessary to contact their family members. I sent an email to staff around the state asking them to offer up their homes to any stranded colleagues or other partner agency personnel.
During this activity, I heard sirens outside…and when I looked, I saw that many of our “high rises” were being evacuated…crowds of people were exiting buildings and in the streets. Panic and confusion welled up in me but I sent staff around to all floors telling people to stay inside the building and not add to the chaos on the street. Listening to the radio, we learned there had been an unidentified flight attempting to land at our Air Force Base just a couple of miles away, causing a crude Emergency Evacuation plan to jump into action. (I say crude as it was a “word of mouth” plan at best, with no good way to retract miscommunication.)
My boss, who was on travel status in Anchorage at the time, had the forethought to create an outgoing message on our agency’s voice mail. This message would alert all callers, employees and non-employees alike, of the status of our agency…whether we were open, whether only certain personnel were expected at work, who should call who and at what numbers if they had additional questions, etc. It wasn’t an efficient solution to our communication dilemma but it was effective. We had our telecom guys route all lines to our main line so everyone heard the message. Employees calling in could use their passcode to bypass the message and get to the internal phone system if need be. I didn’t have scripts for these messages; I just left information as I received it – as crude and unedited as it was over the course of the next few days.
Those days, by the way, were a blur, so I won’t bore you with any more play by play…but I will leave you with this:
As a Human Resource professional and/or leader, it is possible our workforce depends on us to make sense of chaos, to calm the storm, and to add logic and reason to emotionally charged events.
I know we all developed emergency management plans after 9/11 – shoot, consultants who knew anything about emergency management made millions for the next few years helping us do so.
Today, I ask that you read it.
It is possible it includes sections regarding what I refer to as the “human factor.”
However, it is possible it doesn’t go deep enough.
Emergency management from a workforce perspective is not only about ensuring your employees are safe. It is about ensuring your employees are well.
It is possible that simple processes, when well thought out and known by all, can make complicated matters fall into place.
It is possible that you don’t communicate “emergency management” enough.
It is possible that disastrous situations result in saddening memories for your employees.
It is possible your employees, when faced with crisis or emergency situations, become crippled by fear.
It is possible that simple things…like daycare or transportation…are disrupted when catastrophic events occur in your community.
It is possible that lack of quality communication leads to confusion and apprehension.
It is not just possible, these things are highly probable.
Thanks for reading this post. I hope that if and when disaster or catastrophe occurs in your workplace, you and your Leadership can demonstrate the patience, empathy, and prudence to deliver your employees to a “safer” place where they can be “well.”
May we remember and appreciate those who perished on 9/11/01 and keep close in our hearts those who suffered or continued to suffer from those tragic events.