Society for Human Resource Management

 The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides services 24x7 to its 180,000 members and an uncountable number of other stakeholders. Getting everything up and running as soon as possible after any disruption or disaster is critical for SHRM in order to keep providing those services – and ensuring that their people, property and data are safe.

“We have a plan for everything, but I thought it would be valuable to give it a real test and find out how well everything would work if a real disaster occurred,” said Ramon J. Venero, SHRM Director of Administrative Services said. Heidi Byerly, SHRM CIO, agreed and the two set out to make it happen.

They turned to Chantilly, VA-based Attainium Corp – who had developed and conducted a simulation exercise sponsored by ASAE that Byerly attended - to create a customized disaster simulation and put the SHRM team through its paces. “We provided Attainium with some key organizational info so they could make the simulation relevant to our needs and as real as possible,” Venero said. “In the interest of time and efficiency, we decided on a tabletop exercise we could do in one of our major meeting rooms that is fully AV-equipped. Attainium ran the simulation – dubbed 'The Disaster Experience' - via a laptop plugged into our systems.”

“We involved about 60 folks in the exercise,” Byerly said, “including business continuity team, our entire senior management team and alternates from each department plus Administrative Services and IT staff.”

“We had tested all the technology,” Venero said, “but there were at least seven people new to senior management since we worked on the plan a year ago, and we had not actually done any formal training of our people.”

“The simulation was designed to test and evaluate the response procedures that SHRM already had in place and to help them assess the effectiveness of their plans through an exercise that was formulated for their unique situation,” said Bob Mellinger, Attainium Corp’s president. “The exercise tests their ability to respond under stress, to communicate effectively, and to think on their feet and make immediate decisions that could impact life and safety. Attainium observes the entire process then conducts a debriefing session where some of the most valuable insights occur as participants get to discuss and assess what happened.”

Byerly and Venero both agree that the scenario created by Attainium was realistic. “There was conflicting information, a dearth of information – not everybody had the same level of understanding or comfort with their part of the plan,” Venero said. “We learned that we had basically covered all the bases with our plan, but we discovered that we needed to improve the level of communications up and down the recovery organization, and we are planning for the implementation of those improvements as a result of this exercise.

“We have a pretty good health, safety and security system,” Venero said. “We have 30 people trained in first aid and CPR, we have folks trained to use carry chairs, but some things happened that we just weren’t expecting. While we were pretty well prepared on the first responder side, we saw a need to improve our capabilities, which we have done since the exercise.”

According to Byerly, participants found the exercise interesting and challenging – “It really got the adrenaline pumping” – and people hated to see it end. “The simulation resulted in the norming of expectations,” she said. “Members of the management team had different expectations of what would happen and what was expected, and this helped get everyone on the same page.”

“Your entire plan should be tested on an annual basis to ensure its viability,” Mellinger said. “It’s a major challenge to keep your plan updated, but that plan is critical to your ability to keep your organization – and, most important, your people – alive. A carefully constructed plan can save lives, prevent total chaos in the face of a crisis or disaster, and is a critical tool to guide an organization’s recovery and survival.”

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