Hurricane Season Threatens Unprepared Employers

San Francisco, CA (September 7, 2006) -- As the September peak hurricane season marks its arrival with Hurricane Ernesto, businesses need to ensure that disaster plans are in effect to limit the physical and financial impact imposed by storms of this magnitude. Forecasters have predicted another above normal storm year, with an anticipated 12 to 15 named storms, of which seven to nine will reach full hurricane status. The one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when more than 20,000 businesses were devastated, should further remind employers of the need to effectively prepare for the dangers posed by the looming storms.

"It is essential that company owners have proper emergency preparedness plans to ensure employee safety, avoid liability and continue operating their business under displacing circumstances," said Terri M. Solomon, an attorney with Littler Mendelson, the nation's largest employment and labor law firm. "Businesses need to be equipped with the knowledge of existing laws and employer responsibilities. If and when a hurricane strikes, companies with no disaster plan in place could be faced with a plethora of operational challenges and legal problems."

In the event of an emergency, the first concern should always be ensuring employee safety. Solomon advises companies to develop a proper evacuation plan; to train managers and other employees how to properly assist during an emergency; to provide contact information to staff, conditional upon the availability of communication services; and to dictate a process by which employers can account for all employees after a natural disaster.

Solomon also suggests that employers reference NFPA 1600, the National Fire Protection Association standard on disaster management and business continuation, which provides a roadmap for emergency preparedness plans. NFPA 1600 directs businesses to observe applicable legislation, regulations and industry codes of practice; to identify hazards that will eliminate or reduce the risk to life; to implement proper plans after an emergency for analysis of impact from the disaster should a loss occur; and to provide proper services, personnel and materials in the aftermath of a natural disaster so that business can continue under the circumstances.

Although the guidelines as outlined are only voluntary, employers generally accept the suggestions as industry standards. According to Solomon, companies who do not comply with NFPA 1600 are at risk for being sued.

Sound business preparedness and recovery plans protect both corporate and employee interests. Additionally, they should address:

  • Historical threats, such as natural disasters, and possible acts of terrorism
  • Infrastructure disruption, including transportation, power, sanitation and distribution
  • Accommodation of staff on-or off-site - for up to 72 hours without outside assistance
  • Reunification plans for employees' families
  • Communications with employees, customers, suppliers and safety agencies
  • Security of operations during and following the disruption and possible security measures for employees' homes
  • Distribution of cash to employees when banks and ATMs are unavailable and credit cards cannot be processed

A successful plan pays equal attention to the triumvirate: protecting employees, revenue and physical assets.

To speak with Littler Mendelson attorney Terri Solomon regarding employer disaster preparedness and business continuation planning, please contact Maria Amor at (619) 234-0345.

About Littler Mendelson

With more than 485 attorneys and 37 offices in major metropolitan areas nationwide, Littler Mendelson is the largest law firm in the United States devoted exclusively to representing management in employment, employee benefits and labor law matters. The firm's client base ranges from Fortune 500 companies to small-business owners. Established in 1942, the firm has litigated, mediated and negotiated some of the most influential cases and labor contracts in the nation's history. For more information, visit