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Leading in a Post Disaster Setting

Posted by denise on 15 November 2016 | 0 Comments

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Our thoughts go out to the families who have lost loved ones and those who have been affected by yesterday’s quake.  Parts of New Zealand are cut off, other parts are working on clean-up to get back to normal.  Whilst we work to re-establish 'business as usual' operating for many the ‘normal’ will have changed.   People will be recovering from the trauma of being in that moment.  Many employers will find themselves in an unfamiliar situation, unsure of how to operate effectively or respond to people issues.   

A 2013 study,  Leading in a Post-disaster Setting: Guidance for Human Resource Practitioners, undertaken at Canterbury University gives good guidance for organisations around how to best respond to disasters.   

The results of the study are can be viewed here.    Acknowledgements to  the authors  Venkataraman Nilakant, Bernard Walker, Kylie Rochford and Kate van Heughten of Canterbury University.

The study highlights that disasters propel organisations into a situation that is rapidly changing and uncertain, where their usual operating guidelines no longer apply.  The focus is often on execution of emergency management and business continuity planning.   Whilst people may appear to be coping in the short-term, it is in the weeks and months after that the emotional impact can hit.

Practical take-outs include:
  • Emergency management and business continuity plans are a must but organisations need to constantly adapt to the changing situation and staff issues
  • The impact on people can go hidden.  The emotional impact may not emerge until later.
  • Organisations that aren’t in touch with their people tend to miss less obvious signs
  • Organisations that listen to their people are able to pick up on changing issues and then look to address them

The research offers a four-step model:

Phase one – Physical needs and communication

 Ensure physical and psychological safety, evacuation, contact staff, communicate with families, provide necessities such as food, water and shelter.

Phase two – Recovery: Monitoring changing needs

Seek constant feedback from employees to identify the evolving needs of workers – from housing and childcare to social support and counselling.

Phase three – Recovery: Expectations and maintaining equity

Short and long-term post disaster planning to address current needs and anticipate emerging needs. Devise assistance measures that are seen as fair and equitable to all employees and ensure they are sustainable.

Phase four – Leadership behaviour of supervisors

Increased focus on the emotional awareness of supervisors and middle managers, including their ability to empathise with others, offer support and recognize and respond to needs – both emotional and practical.

Some resources you may find useful

When Trauma and Grief come to work.  Acknowledgements

Post Traumatic Stress



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