When a crisis hits, morale matters: Lessons from the floods

As I read news of Hurricane Sandy approaching the shores of east coast America last night, I was reminded of driving through the flash floods that hit Gloucestershire – and my home town of Cheltenham – in July 2007. It may not have had a backdrop of skyscrapers in Times Square, but it was certainly dramatic, and its impact was felt for months afterwards: homes and businesses were severely damaged, and large areas were left without a water supply for two weeks.

Steelhenge interviewed Chelsea Building Society about how they responded as roads closed, flood defences failed, 1000s were stranded and water supplies cut off, and what lessons they learnt from the experience.

On Sunday 22nd July, as conditions worsened dramatically, the executive cascade at Chelsea Building Society (whose headquarters in Cheltenham have over 700 staff) was invoked and a critical situation declared.

The incident management team, led by the CEO, met and identified key issues, including:

  • Staff unable to come to work
  • Nursery and childcare providers closing
  • Hygiene issues as crisis carries on
  • The ability to maintain customer service levels

Their mission was the survival of operations, and the recovery of business as usual, and their vision was to make coming to work better than staying at home.

They set about achieving this in practical and creative ways: sourcing bottled water and storage, portaloos and… a fire engine. The fire engine was used to pump and transport water around their sites and storage tanks, and enabled flood water to be used for flushing – a great example of creative thinking during a crisis!

Morale of the staff was considered an absolute priority, as many had homes damaged by the flooding and remained without water for showers, drinking or cleaning. There were regular internal communications every 1 ½ hours explaining what they were doing and why, staff were offered advice and support for home life and ‘morale boosters’ such as a roaming chocolate trolley and a company-wide BBQ at the end of week one.

A key lesson from the floods for Chelsea Building Society was that morale matters – and that a crisis can be an opportunity to pull together, strengthen bonds and build loyalty long after the incident itself has passed.

Useful links:

  • Sign up for free flood warnings affecting your area from the Environment Agency
  • See how Steelhenge helped Gloucestershire Local Authority improve its business continuity plans after the 2007 floods.
  • Read the full report of lessons learnt from the floods of June and July 2007 in the Pitt Review.

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

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