September 30, 2013
Riya V. Anandwala

New Research Stresses Need for Disaster Plans

ST. LOUIS - Thirty-five percent of human resources professionals lack a personal preparedness plan, which can impact an organization in face of a natural disaster or pandemic, finds a Saint Louis University public health researcher.

Terri Rebmann
Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Institute for
Biosecurity, Saint Louis University. .

The study, which was published in the Journal of Biosafety and Health Education, suggests 20 items or actions that should be adopted by a person in order to prepare for a disaster, including having at least three days' worth of food, water and prescription medication stockpiled, designated safe location for him or herself and family to go in case of evacuation, and having back-up child care plans in case daycares or schools are closed.

In total, 471 HR professionals from 33 states participated in the survey, and about a third had half or fewer of these preparedness measures.

"Without a personal disaster plan, individuals and families are unlikely to be able to sustain themselves after a disaster when grocery stores and pharmacies are closed and community resources are insufficient to provide for the entire community," said Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., associate professor at the Institute of Biosecurity, Saint Louis University and principal investigator of the study.

Rebmann says it is important for HR professionals to have a disaster plan as many routine business operations depend on them.

"HR professionals are particularly important because they often coordinate personnel payment. If they can't work during a disaster because they lack a personal disaster plan to sustain their families, all of the personnel at the HR professionals' workplace may not get paid on time," she said.

Rebmann also pointed out that when hit by a disaster, which results in a large number of injured or sick employees, HR professionals would be essential in coordinating the hiring of a temporary staff team that would help maintain business operations. Without the ability to quickly hire temporary staff, businesses may be forced to close, which would have a significant financial impact on the organization and the community.

"A majority of HR professionals said they believe a natural disaster is very likely to affect their community and business in the future, but they did not have an adequate personal preparedness plan in place," Rebmann said. "Many citizens believe that local response agencies will provide them with basic needs during a disaster, but we know from past experiences that it takes a few days or longer for response agencies to be able to help, and even when they do, there are simply not enough resources for everyone in the affected communities who need it."

Rebmann suggests that it would be beneficial to employers to encourage HR professionals to have a personal disaster plan as that increases the likelihood that staff members are able and willing to work during a disaster.

The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind among the nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.

With a focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex global health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in global public health, social work, health management and health policy, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, behavioral science and health education, emergency management, biosecurity and disaster preparedness, and criminology and criminal justice.

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