Boiling: Responding to Europe's Record Heat Wave

Unusual temperatures and deadly fires are creating complex prep plans for more than just the public sector.

The headlines tell it all: Europe's getting baked. July’s unprecedented wildfires in Sweden’s far north have forced town evacuations. Similarly, on the beaches near Athens, Greece, infernos have killed dozens. Britain, the land where rain rarely stops, is afflicted by drought. One utility has even instituted a hosepipe ban.

From the edge of the Arctic tundra down to the shores of the Mediterranean, extreme dry heat is threatening Europe with temperatures at or near the highest on record. The unusual spate of natural disasters has government responders and planners overloaded, but equally challenging are private sector's readiness, and the leadership required there as well. 

With past disasters to work off, firms may, for example, try to have everything, from backup offices and factory spaces ready to employee heat-assistance programs. Likewise, backup electrical power might be needed if the utility grid fails. If key personnel need to be relocated to another city, then temporary accommodation could be required.  

"You can’t prepare for every possible scenario your business can face," says Peter Cave-Gibbs, Korn Ferry senior client partner for global technology and regional market leader of EMEA. “But even if the plan you have isn’t appropriate, the very fact that you went through the process suggests you are already half-way there and are ready to face subsequent problems.” In other words, even broad-scale planning is a good thing.

The way to do that is to establish a cross-functional crisis management response team, says Cave-Gibbs. That would include human resources, finance, supply specialists, and representatives from individual business units. “Just by the fact that you have a team set up means that you have the framework for responding to whatever happens,” he says. For instance, whoever did the planning for alternate offices will already have a good idea of how and where to find a new facility if it turns out that the original backup location isn't available. In other words, the advance preparation will pay off.

Sometimes there may need to be a plan for major catastrophes. If the company headquarters is not usable then there should be plans for work to be moved to other locations. It may be necessary to lean on suppliers for help as well: They may have resources that can help such as temporary desk space.

Planning isn't just about what happens in the event of a disaster. It is also about giving comfort to your current staff now. "At a very minimum there is an expectation from your employee base that you will have a plan,” says Sonamara Jeffreys, co-president of EMEA based in Korn Ferry's London office. People want to know that the company will kick into action in the event of a calamity. Some executives are already well versed in this matter. In the 1970s and 1980s Londoners were blighted by terror campaigns, which meant when a weekend attack occurred on London's Borough Market in 2017 people were mentally prepared, as were most leaders.

The top priority after any disaster is to check on your employees. "You need to know where are your employees and are they well," says Jeffreys. Often that involves a telephone tree where supervisors call their team members and report back. Of course, there are other technological solutions, she says, such as a Facebook-style check-in system, which puts the onus on employees to indicate that they are safe.