The decision to close your workplace in an emergency should be an integral part of emergency planning and not a spur-of-the-moment afterthought. You should have a detailed plan for closing your facility that addresses:
These are issues that should be settled well in advance of a workplace emergency and clearly communicated to employees. Leaving such decisions to chance or to the conditions of the moment will most likely lead to confusion, mistakes, and even greater problems to overcome in the aftermath of the emergency.
- The circumstances that will lead to a closing
- The administrator(s) who can make the decision to close
- How the decision is communicated
- What to do about employee compensation
Here are six major issues your emergency closing plan should anticipate:
1. Mandatory evacuations. Local and state authorities may issue mandatory evacuation orders, enforced by police, with which companies must abide. Have policies in place to address when a facility is in an evacuation area and when employees are under mandatory evacuation from their homes.
2. National emergencies. National emergencies may justify a workplace closing, even if the emergency is not happening at a particular worksite or even close by. For example, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many employers across the country closed down for the day until the scope of the disaster was better understood and because employees were anxious to return to their families and homes amidst the uncertainty of the situation.
3. Local emergencies. Such events as power outages, highway closings, hazardous spills, and equipment failures may sometimes make it so impractical to operate the workplace that it is not worthwhile to open until the situation is corrected.
4. Weather. In the case of weather emergencies, travel is the major problem. Critical consideration includes the time the weather event is expected to occur and, of course, the severity of the event. New Doppler radar makes weather predictions more time-sensitive and accurate; go to weather.noaa.gov to access local information.
5. Notification. You should have a written policy in place that instructs employees how they can expect to receive notice of a closing. Apps are available to send emergency messages to employees’ phones and mobile electronic devices. Local radio and television stations often announce business closings. A special telephone number may be available for employers and other organizations to call on such occasions, especially as ordinary phone lines might quickly become inaccessible. Many companies also set up a chain telephone system for notifying employees about closings or delays or post notice on the company website.
6. Alternate workplace. Employers should also communicate where an alternate workplace is located and direct employees there when appropriate.