Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma are pummeling the Americas and Gulf. Mexico is reeling from not one, but two major earthquakes just 12 days apart. Major fires continue to burn throughout America's western states. These undoubtedly will not be the last disasters to hit, and your team is counting on you to be able to respond if the worst happens.

1. Prepare financially.

Disasters don't erase the need for basics like food and water, nor do they get rid of expenses like rent or hotel fees, gas or public transportation fare or medical co-pays. One of the most important supports in a disaster is to make sure employees still have income available. You can:

  • Set money aside for catastrophe pay and/or establish a fund employees can pay into that can offer disaster relief grants. Starbucks earned kudos earlier this month for providing both these options following Hurricane Irma.
  • Make sure your team has access to options like the Individual Assistance grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or individual county and state grants. Provide links on your website and, when the disaster hits, share them on all appropriate social-media channels.
  • Establish a fund that allows you to match gifts donated to people in the affected area.
  • Put money aside that can cover low-interest loans to employees.

On top of these elements, look at your insurance policies and update them. Check your lines of credit, as well.

2. Compile a list of available counselors.

The loss, injury, and death that happens in a disaster is emotionally devastating--psychotherapist Susanne Babbel points out that it connects to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on a large scale. In addition to making sure your team knows how to contact the company counselors you might have, give workers the contact information for local counseling centers and independent therapists. Include leaders from area churches on the list.

In some cases, it's not going to be your employee who is directly affected by the disaster, but rather her loved ones. Connecting employees with larger organizations such as Psychology Today, Mental Health America, the American Association of Christian Counselors or Institute for Muslim Mental Health will ensure those on your team are able to find a compassionate, licensed professional for friends and family members to talk to.

3. Communicate policy.

Whether your workers need time off to deal with home repairs, get medical care or attend a funeral, revisit your leave and PTO policies to make sure they're sufficient. Educate employees about their rights and options.

4. Emphasize emergency preparedness.

Regardless of the disaster type, workers need to know what supplies to have on hand and pull them together. Lists on what to include in an emergency kit are available from Ready.gov, and organizations such as the Red Cross. These agencies, as well as local fire and police departments, also can provide training such as CPR, sandbagging, or electrical safety. Practice using evacuation routes from your building and help workers establish a plan to evacuate from both their homes and the entire community. Work with local authorities to inspect or assess your properties for potential hazards on a regular basis based on your geography and current codes. Lastly, know in advance which providers you'll use if your property requires repairs, landscaping, or other services. Have their information in one place for easy reference. The quicker they work, the faster your employees can get back to their jobs and start to heal.

5. Have HR make sure employee data is up to date.

Did a worker just move? Have a baby? Change insurance plans? Regularly asking employees to review their personal information lowers the odds that you can't get them the help they need in a timely fashion. And if HR isn't correcting these basic errors, they can assist in other ways. Perhaps most important, however, up-to-date files allow you to perform wellness checks and account for everyone on your payroll in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

6. Arrange for use of your property.

Perhaps your building could serve as a shelter, or maybe it's a great place to distribute supplies. Have a plan for how to open your doors in a safe, efficient way. Make sure you know which one of your HR reps will coordinate your services with other aid agencies and volunteers.

7. Ask for volunteers.

There are only so many HR professionals at any business. Let other employees from all levels come together to lead training, distribute supplies or coordinate temporary workarounds. This doesn't just keep your business running or offer physical help. It lets workers respond to the psychological need they have to take action, keeping them from feeling helpless. Remember, think outside the box here. That employee you so often chide for too many Facebook breaks, for example? Maybe they're the one you want helping HR post about your aid efforts or looking at accounts to find employees.

8. Back up your data.

Yes, everything. You need to know the personal information you gathered and checked is safe. And in addition to preventing delays and financial loss, data backup also means your employees won't be stressed out about having to search for data again or start over on projects. It's as much about maintaining normalcy as it is about protecting your bottom line.

Disasters aren't always predictable. But your ability and method to respond to them can be. The sooner you take these proactive steps, the sooner you--and everyone on your team--can rest easier.

Published on: Sep 21, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.