Duty of Care: 10 Tips for Crisis Management

How to ensure guest safety and business continuity when the unexpected happens.

Kevin Brown, Oakwood Worldwide

Kevin Brown, Oakwood Worldwide

Increasingly, guests at corporate housing and serviced apartment facilities–from families and business travelers to corporate travel managers relocating employees–are seeking property managers who can go beyond the basics. Beside providing first-class customer service and attractive pricing, managers today are expected to show that they have taken the time to anticipate what could go wrong and prepare accordingly.

This concept, known widely as duty of care, encompasses both guest safety and business continuity. This entails everything from invisible cybersecurity measures that protect guests’ personal information to more visible steps that come into play in a crisis.

Fortunately, serious emergencies are relatively rare. However, in the event that something does happen, from an outbreak of disease to a natural disaster, it is critical that property managers are ready with a plan of action. Failing to provide duty of care leaves not only guests vulnerable, but also property managers.

Drawing on Oakwood Worldwide’s broad experience in global property management, we can offer some tips for developing crisis response and duty of care strategies.

  1. Develop an action plan: Map out proactive measures and protocols in advance. In the chaotic environment created by a major event, it is crucial for everyone involved to know what is expected. A crisis does not allow time for developing robust, well-thought out responses.
  2. Assemble a crisis team: Assign clearly defined roles and responsibilities, along with a protocol to follow in the event of a crisis that affects properties throughout the globe. For example, decide who should be notified, determine when and how those people should be informed, and ensure that the necessary tools and support mechanisms are in place to respond effectively and efficiently.
  3. Make education a priority: Train your employees to respond in a crisis. They should know there is a plan in place; understand what’s expected, how to communicate those expectations and carry them out; and know whom to turn to for additional support.
  4. Encourage consistent dialogue: Have discussions about worst-case scenarios in order to design a program that will be consistent, efficient, sustainable and comprehensive. It is often not a question of if, but rather when, a crisis or unexpected incident will happen.
  5. Set guest expectations: Evaluate and communicate risks to clients and guests in order to set expectations before and during their stay. It’s essential to alert guests of potential crises to enhance preparation and minimize alarm.
  6. Create a hotline: Establish a dedicated 24-hour crisis hotline to manage crisis responses and communication.
  7. Monitor the environment: Be alert to local and national news reports to identify potential crises quickly and respond effectively to potential threats to guest safety. If your business and clients operate globally, then stay abreast of world events. You should also consider how teams at international field offices may assist in duty of care planning and crisis response strategies.
  8. Establish a notification system: Communicate before, during and after the crisis. For example, if a tsunami strikes, reach out to guests staying in the impacted area via text, voicemail and email to confirm their safety. Also, inform the guests’ companies whether the event affected the properties where their employees are housed.
  9. Minimize the impact: Evaluate ways to reduce the effect of a crisis on the company and its clients. Although emergencies can occur any time, few are significant enough to halt business operations in the aftermath.
  10. Stay sharp: Schedule regular crisis training to create “muscle memory” and identify any gaps in the company’s preparation. Simulations should focus on a variety of scenarios in which guests would need to be notified or relocated. Potential scenarios include long-term power outages, floods and political unrest and threats, as well as weather-related events like hurricanes, fires and snowstorms.

Needless to say, it’s important to get ahead of a crisis, and at the same time react nimbly to ensure guests’ health and safety. Time and energy dedicated to preparation is a smart investment, and for property managers, the ability to handle an emergency should be a basic expectation.

Kevin Brown is director of global account strategy at Oakwood Worldwide. Based in Los Angeles, the company provides a wide range of corporate housing services. 

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