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How to Overcome Staffing Challenges in Disaster-Affected Areas

On a sunny day, two workers walk away from down a dirt covered road facing away from the camera. They are wearing orange long-sleeve shirts, blue denim pants and work boots. To their left, piles of debris line the street. To their right, several homes and cars remain intact. Aerotek can help companies overcome staffing challenges in disaster affected areas.

Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, can unleash havoc on communities, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. While the immediate focus often revolves around rescue and recovery efforts, it is equally imperative to address the staffing challenges that emerge in the aftermath of a disaster. The intricacies of managing a workforce during disaster recovery can be difficult to overcome. We spoke with Director of Strategic Sales Quinn Heimann and Lead Regional Safety Manager Mary Beth Clark to learn more about staffing and achieving safety compliance in disaster-affected areas.

Who Manages Workers in Disaster Recovery?

The onset of disasters typically plunges affected regions into a state of chaos and disarray. In these trying times, effective leadership becomes the linchpin in managing the workforce during recovery efforts. The level of leadership responsibility hinges on the scale and nature of the disaster at hand.

In scenarios characterized by large-scale disasters, such as hurricanes that inflict widespread devastation, the federal government typically assumes a leading role. This is primarily due to the formidable resources at its disposal, which are essential for coordinating multifaceted recovery operations. Conversely, disasters with a more localized impact, such as heatwaves or regional flooding, are often managed by state or local agencies equipped to respond swiftly to the specific needs of their communities.

In situations where government resources are stretched thin, or specialized services are demanded, recruiting agencies become an effective means of locating and activating workers to help in the rebuild. These agencies can play an indispensable role in disaster recovery by communicating and organizing the local workforce. 

“Depending on the type of natural disaster, communication with potential workers can be a challenge due to lack of electricity which can impact phone lines, cell phone battery, Wi-Fi access, etc. Also, finding candidates who are able to get to work can sometimes be a challenge if their transportation has been affected (i.e., car damage, bus routes shutdown, etc.),” says Heimann.

Benefits of Working With a Staffing Agency During Disaster Recovery

“Staffing agencies can help deploy a large number of workers in a quick period of time. Agencies can help redeploy candidates who are willing and able to work that might be out of a job because of the disaster,” says Heimann.

Staffing agencies are well-established entities operating within a diverse array of industries, from unskilled labor to executive management. They function as hubs connecting employers with a vast and varied talent pool. These agencies may maintain comprehensive rosters of pre-vetted workers, which allows them to connect employers swiftly and effectively with the most suitable personnel.

There are numerous advantages of collaborating with a staffing agency during disaster recovery. First, staffing agencies possess extensive networks that enable them to rapidly source and deploy workers. This agility is paramount in ensuring the timely execution of recovery efforts. Second, staffing agencies undertake rigorous vetting and verification processes to ascertain the competence and reliability of their workforce. Thus, employers can rest assured that the workers supplied are well equipped to tackle the challenges presented by disaster recovery. This partnership with staffing agencies provides a dependable source of skilled employees during times of crisis, fostering efficiency and efficacy in recovery operations.

Benefits of Using Contractors in Disaster Recovery

Contractors serve as indispensable project managers for hire during the tumultuous aftermath of disasters. Their expertise becomes invaluable in establishing complex logistical and supply chains, overseeing reconstruction and renovation projects, and conducting essential inspections and assessments of damaged infrastructure. Both individual contract workers and contractors sourced from local or private staffing agencies can be swiftly mobilized to address the pressing needs that arise in disaster recovery.

“Contract workers can make a quick impact on helping to clean up and rebuild areas effected by a disaster. Often, locals who want to pitch in to help get their town up and running again will take contract positions, in addition to candidates who are out of work due to the disaster,” says Heimann. 

A quality staffing agency excels at finding contractors who possess the specialized expertise and qualifications demanded by disaster recovery efforts. These firms maintain stringent selection criteria, ensuring that their workers are up to date with certifications and possess relevant experience. This preparedness equips them to quickly contribute to recovery efforts which can reduce the amount of time it takes to rebuild. Furthermore, staffing agencies may have access to niche talent that government agencies may lack, underscoring the critical role of public-private partnerships in disaster response.

Ensuring Health and Safety Compliance During Disaster Recovery

Health and safety considerations take center stage when operating in disaster-affected areas. Each disaster presents its unique set of hazards, including unstable structures, hazardous materials, diverse teams, and pervasive confusion. To safeguard the well-being of workers and maintain the integrity of recovery operations, it is essential to implement robust safety measures. 

“When disasters strike, companies are faced with providing recovery efforts as quickly as possible. During the initial stages of response, it is important to take a step back and ensure all responders are provided the training necessary to respond to the hazards at hand safely and effectively. This may include training on respiratory protection, hazard communication, HAZWOPER, bloodborne pathogens, and more,” says Clark. 

Here are some other key considerations:

1. Infection Control

Workers engaged in disaster recovery are invariably exposed to a multitude of infectious hazards. Stagnant water can transform into breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes, posing a substantial threat to worker health. Additionally, sifting through rubble and debris may expose workers to respiratory hazards, including asbestos and silica. Damage to water and plumbing infrastructure may render water non-potable, significantly elevating the risk of infection. Adequate protection, immunizations, and stringent hygiene protocols are imperative to mitigate these risks effectively. In some scenarios, Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training may be required to effectively train and protect workers from these hazards.

2. Electrical Safety

The aftermath of disasters often leaves a trail of downed buildings and power lines, creating substantial safety hazards for recovery personnel. Proper handling of generators, which are frequently employed by emergency response teams, is crucial to prevent accidents and ensure a continuous power supply for critical equipment and facilities. Comprehensive training and adherence to safety protocols are non-negotiable in this regard.

3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The provision of appropriate personal protective equipment is paramount to ensure the safety of workers operating in disaster-affected areas. Workers must have access to basic PPE, including gloves, safety glasses, and masks, to protect against immediate hazards. In certain situations, such as those involving airborne hazards, respirators become a necessity. Additionally, when there is a risk of exposure to infectious agents, isolation gowns level A or level B protection suits should be readily available. Adequate PPE not only safeguards worker health but also reinforces the overall effectiveness of disaster recovery efforts.

Disaster-affected areas present multifaceted challenges that extend far beyond the immediate crisis. Staffing agencies play pivotal roles in sourcing, deploying, and managing skilled workers essential for the success of recovery operations. Ensuring the health and safety of workers is imperative to maintain the integrity of these operations. By gaining a deeper understanding of the intricacies of staffing and safety in disaster recovery, communities can navigate these challenging circumstances more effectively, ultimately contributing to the restoration and rebuilding of affected areas.

To learn more about how Aerotek can assist in disaster recovery, contact us today