Focus: People Management - Charities urged to prepare for worst

The suicide bombings in London highlight the need for readiness. Graham Willgoss reports.

The recent attacks on London's transport network should make all HR managers think carefully about how prepared their organisation is for this kind of event, according to the director of the Future Work Forum at Henley Management College.

Peter Thompson says the attacks should serve as a serious warning to the sector about the vulnerability of employers to major disruptions in their work patterns.

So how prepared were charities in central London on 7 July, when the suicide bombers struck?

Shelter director Adam Sampson is based at the charity's head office on Old Street, close to the area where a tube train was bombed between Aldgate and Liverpool Street stations, killing at least seven people.

He says: "Our main concern on that day was the safety of our staff. Thankfully, everyone was OK.

"Once everyone had been accounted for, we were able to establish the feasibility of people staying in London and make arrangements for those who were unable to travel."

The fact that Shelter has a nationwide network of offices means that any major incident in one location is unlikely to seriously disrupt the organisation's work in the long term.

However, the NCVO, which is based on Caledonian Road, within the King's Cross station exclusion zone, was forced to close its office and was unable to open again until the following Monday.

Sampson says: "We have to look at it from a long-term point of view. The capital got back on its feet very quickly after the attacks, but if we had to keep Shelter running without our full complement of staff or without the use of our head office, we could."

Shelter's internal IT systems can be accessed from any home computer with internet access, allowing offices to be run remotely.

Thompson says: "If there is any good to come from the tragedy of the London bombs, perhaps the HR function will see it as a challenge to conventional thinking about the way we get work done."

Sampson adds: "The challenge is ensuring that we deliver proper services to clients who may be in need but are unable to travel. Face-to-face meetings could be difficult after a major incident. We do have our national free housing advice helpline, but there is also a wider drive to use the internet to give people as much access to information as possible."

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