Sydney siege and thoughts for HR teams

December 2014 will remain in the minds of many for some time to come, after customers and staff within a coffee shop in Sydney were held hostage and subjected to a terrifying ordeal.

Gun lobbyists around the world are declaring that if a country with such strict gun controls as Australia can have this happen, then it's proof that gun controls don't work; and if Australians had the right to bear arms, then the hostages could have blasted away their captor and avoided the deaths of 2 otherwise innocent people.

With an Australian on our team, it's best not to enter the gun control debate here - amongst other things she will be quick to point out the stats showing gun related deaths in countries with and without gun control laws, and Australia still looks attractively safe as a result.  

But the situation has got us thinking about how we would handle things if ever one of our own team got caught up in a violent event, or even an accident of any type.  Talking about this with members of our HR network, we've found some recurring themes in the questions for consideration:

  1. Do you have current home address and contact details for your staff?  How do you ensure currency?
  2. Do you have emergency contact details for your staff- address, home and work phone numbers and emails for next of kin? How do you ensure currency?
  3. Do you (and other business leaders) know where your staff are supposed to be during any given work day? 
  4. Is it appropriate for you (and other business leaders) to know the typical pre and post work-day routines of your employees?
  5. If you don't already have access to counselling for employees, do you have in-and-out-of-hours contact details and a stand by arrangement in place for such a service?  (If you're one of several companies rushing for help in an emergency, don't risk being the employer who misses out when counselling providers are all booked up!)
  6. If you're on leave and/or unable to be contacted immediately, do your team know how to handle such an emergency?  Are you sure they'll remain emotionally stable to be able to react productively? (I recall the instance of a HR VP colleague who couldn't stop crying and wailing on the news of a manager's sudden death - unfortunately unable to give any guidance to staff who needed some direction and support)
  7. Have you equipped your business leaders with the "tools" needed to handle such an event?  (I recall a Board member yelling at staff to cease discussing and crying about that manager's sudden death - perhaps not the best example of leadership in an emergency, but it was his own coping technique at the time)
  8. How will your related "time off work" policies stack up? Perhaps more importantly, where does the moral compass of your management team and company lay in making exceptions?  (We heard just this week about the new employee at a well known company who was sent overseas for a work trip.  He suffered a horrific car accident whilst abroad, and wasn't eligible for financial or medical support beyond the first couple of months of his lengthy hospital stay because he didn't qualify under the company's policies for employees still in probation)

For most of us, the events of Sydney are alarming and tragic, but nonetheless remote - something that with luck and a fair wind, we'll never experience directly or within our immediate or extended networks.

However part of the responsibility of any HR leader must include risk management and within that, contingency planning.  Ensuring you have answers and actions linked to the questions above, is a small investment premium that could in the event of any emergency situation, pay for itself immeasurably.