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Disasters

I think it is fair to say that 2011 has started with one disaster after another.

Our own floods here in Australia, drenching Queensland, Northern New South Wales and parts of Victoria are well documented.

The loss of life in the Toowoomba, Lockyer Valley and Grantham townships was a tragedy, and it clearly impacted on anyone that knows the area and has family, relatives or friends living there.

The Brisbane City floods also impacted on many lives. It is a bustling thriving centre, more so than the last major flood in 1974, and thousands were, and I dare say still are, affected either at home or at work.
 
This month, over 95% of Queensland has been declared a disaster area.

Anyone who has been watching the weather would know that our northern cousins are still experiencing flooding, some areas for the 3rd or 4th time since the start of the year.

Then of course we have the Christchurch disaster that, in many ways, eclipsed our own. Visitors to New Zealand’s south island would know the area. They’d understand that tourism is a major drawcard for the town, they’d also know that its architecture was a point of interest for many. In what was a minute or two of violent rumbling, the landscape has changed forever. Aside from the loss of their various monuments, their historic churches, the tragedy that was the loss of life affected us all.

The cataclysmic events in Japan are yet to be fully played out, but this is a monumental disaster in the making. I’m sure everyone is monitoring this story as it develops.

It seems that everyone knows someone from New Zealand, whether it is a friend or work colleague, and it also seems that everyone knows a ‘kiwi’ that knows someone in Christchurch.

I know several sign colleagues that I’ve finally managed to contact, and the stories they tell are nothing short of terrifying. All are safe, but their lives have been impacted forever. Loss of income through the displacement of their workplace is a problem, and that is directly impacting on their wellbeing. Loss of business due to the calamity will see many of our sign colleagues close up shop or amalgamate. I dare say some will emigrate to Australia too.

Then we have recent earthquakes in Japan, Tonga, Fiji and PNG to name a few.  (Reference http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/quakes_big.php and http://www.ga.gov.au/earthquakes/initRecentQuakes.do )

A colleague of mine in Japan tells me it was a truly frightening experience, even though he was some distance from the epicentre.

The cataclysmic events in Japan are yet to be fully played out, but this is a monumental disaster in the making. I’m sure everyone is monitoring this story as it develops.

Therein lies a problem.

Given that we are a multicultural society, we are likely dealing with nationals from these countries just about every day.

In tourism sectors like the ones my own clients are based in, dealing with the Japanese is a daily occurrence. In terms of impact to businesses like mine, some Japanese clients are clearly distracted with what is happening at home, and getting signage or advertising right now is a very low priority. Their own businesses will be affected as they struggle to maintain a positive outlook and still earn an income while a disaster unfolds at home. We really do need to be alert to these situations.

Contacting them just to see how they are coping, seeing if they are affected, offering our support in a sincere show of mateship is a good starting point if we have a real appreciation of their business.

But its not only clients.

Don’t forget about your staff.

Our industry employs a lot of  New Zealanders, Islanders and Asians here in Australia. Most by nature will appear stoic, but don’t dismiss the fact that although they are separated from the disaster by distance, they may not be struggling to cope with what is happening at home.

Be alert to changes in character. Little things will start becoming a crisis. Small problems at work will become big ones. They will be distracted easily.

I know some companies that get their staff all together in an informal setting when a disaster is unfolding, and ask them as a group if anyone is affected, either directly or indirectly, with what is happening. Get it out in the open early, so all the staff are on the same page. Encourage discussion. Support anyone that wants to start a fundraising campaign, perhaps offering to ’host’ it via the company.

A good HR manager is an asset in times like these. Knowing the staff history and family situation is a good place to start if you have concerns about their wellbeing.

The real secret to any situation like this is communication. But remember, communication is not only talking, it is listening as well.

If anyone of your staff are affected by what is happening around them, being understanding and supportive is the key. When being supportive, don’t discuss anything in a negative tone.

The online article ‘How to Deal With an Area-Wide Crisis in the Workplace’ makes some good suggestions.

Have a calm demeanour and a calm voice, and make sure of your facts before offering advice.

The article goes on to suggest you try to keep smiling, be a good listener, only offer advice you know to be accurate, make sure any information you relay has been verified as true, and remember that some people may be affected personally, as in, their family back home may be directly affected, so encourage workmates around the person to be calm.

When the crisis is over, hopefully the staff member and their immediate family will reflect positively on the whole experience, both on a work level and a private level.

For anyone affected by these disasters, all of us here at Wide Format Online wish to express our support, and if you have a story to tell, please feel free to drop us a line.

Shane Drew
www.shanedrew.com

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