Organizational Safety Net
The goal of this study is to develop a model toolkit that helps large organizations create an "organizational safety net" that will allow them to continue functioning during a large-scale emergency. It is anticipated that during an emergency, employees will be anxious about their personal and family needs, and may wish to leave their workplace and/or stay home until conditions are stabilized. Organizations asking employees to remain in their jobs need to provide a workplace of safety and comfort that also addresses employee concerns about family well-being in order for employees to perform optimally and not feel the need to leave the workplace.
This issue gained considerable prominence after the September 11th World Trade Center disaster and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many employers, including small businesses, large corporations, hospitals and universities recognized that they must institute appropriate personnel policies and procedures that address the safety and support of the work environment in order for employees to feel that their personal and family needs are being taken care of. Organizations are run by people and the ability of a workforce to sustain itself under the conditions of threat and crisis can only be fostered in a climate of safety and caring. This model would provide an environment of safety and support to employees in order to assure that essential employees will come to work and will remain at work during a disaster and which can be integrated into the overall organizational Incident Command Structure developed by the organization. The model will provide tools that address employees' psychological and practical needs, enable employees to communicate with their families during a catastrophic event and suggest actions that would enhance an organizational culture of preparedness and support.
In 2005, the LaSER team met with the leadership of functional units of New York University, encompassing both the Washington Square campus and the Medical Center. During these interviews the leaders were specifically asked to delineate the functions of their units and to identify the personnel and other requirements needed to allow productive functioning of their units during times of crisis.
In 2006, the team solicited a convenience sample of NYU employees and conduct focus groups to assess their perception of their personal and functional unit needs during times of crisis. Three focus groups were held as part of a larger project aimed at developing a safety net model that will help large organizations such as hospitals to continue functioning during a disaster. The focus groups collected data on the practical and emotional support employees would need to continue to work in the event a disaster was to occur. A total of 30 employees from New York University volunteered to participate in one of the three focus groups held on May 8, 9, and 11, 2006.
The participants represented diverse departments including Human Resources, Health Services, Athletics, and Security. Participants also represented different levels within the organization, from line worker to management. Many participants spoke from their experiences of having been through disasters while at work, ranging in magnitude from 9/11 to a blackout. Each focus group was about two hours in length, and all three were structured similarly. All three groups heard the same introductions about the purpose of the focus group within the overall project; what is meant by a disaster for the purpose of this study; the nature of focus groups; and the roles of the facilitator and recorder. Participants were promised confidentiality and anonymity of responses. Participants were asked what NYU would need to do to make it possible for essential employees to get to work and stay at work during a disaster of any kind; responses led to an inventory of safety elements that were listed on a flip chart. Next, each group voted on each item as essential, nice but less important, or not needed; while each individual voted independently, participants could see how others were voting which might have biased responses. Next, participants were shown a list of safety elements developed by the researchers through a literature search, and asked whether they wanted to modify their inventory. Finally, members were asked to write any additional items they may have thought about or preferred not to say; no one used this option. Specific objectives included:
- Analyze needs of faculty, staff, administrators and students
- Design toolkit of services and communication modes from which organizations can build an appropriate safety net for employees
- Prepare a final paper on the model with recommendations for testing and evaluation