I am writing this from Huntsville, AL. Last week saw the worst day in US history for death and destruction by tornadoes. More than 300 people were killed and billions of dollars of damage was done across five southern states. Millions of people were left without power as the strong winds hit a TVA power plant downing high-voltage lines. Here in Huntsville, the lights went out Wednesday evening and were not restored for the majority of residents until early the following Monday.
The lack of electricity caused problems in homes: no lights, no hot-water, no way to prepare food, no refrigeration (thankfully the spring-time temperatures did not make heating or cooling a concern). No power also meant that many of the supermarkets closed (though several reopened after bringing in generators); other businesses were also forced to shut-down, including gas stations. This meant that a great many people were stranded in the area.
How can hotels – managers and front desk staff – be prepared to help guests who are in-house when disaster strikes, or who might need an emergency place to stay? Some of the suggestions coming from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research include the following points.
1. Have a plan. Any emergency preparedness plan should detail what is to be done in the event of a power interruption, and who will have the responsibility to do it. The plan should be reviewed and updated every six months.
2. Train and re-train staff on emergency procedures. Make certain managers know what to do when a power-failure occurs and how to switch to a manual hotel system.
3. Stock-up on emergency supplies. The obvious needs are flashlights, lanterns and batteries. Also include non-perishable foods, bottled water, and baby needs (e.g. formula and diapers). Of course cold weather will demand additional blankets. Battery powered radios and TV’s would also be helpful.
4. Keep cooking. A hotel might also want to have a gas grill on-hand for food preparation in an emergency, along with propane tanks.
5. Have a back-up generator. Even if power is not supplied to the entire hotel, a generator can keep the essential operations up and running.
6. Empower employees to make decisions during times of crisis. While most actions will be guided by the disaster plan in place, there are times when it will be necessary to “go off script.” Give employees the authority, for example, to unlock the vending machines if necessary. They need the confidence that they will not be punished for their choices.
7. Be visible. In emergency situations, guests need the assurance that the hotel’s managers are in control and protecting their guests’ safety and security. Floor patrols, information updates, room escorts and similar actions show guests that they are important in troubled times.
8. Encourage empathy. In emergency situations, away from home, fearful for their families’ safety, people need understanding, patience, and personal attention. Empathy matters and is a critical dimension of service during times of crisis.
Though not exhaustive, these are some helpful guidelines for the next time an emergency occurs.
By Joe Fairchild - Joe who writes for Nexxt, has a strong background in employee training and customer service. Semi-retired, he continues working in the hospitality industry for the customer interaction and travel discounts. A veteran financial advisor and public speaker, he delights in helping others find their path and achieve their goals. Read more of his blogs at HospitalityJobsiteBlog.com.