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The return on investing in personal resilience

Ann Coss (left)
and Ronald Bearse

Last week, we wrote an article for GSN about personal resilience being the foundation of national resilience, and we discussed the consequences of the following facts:

  • Most Americans are not prepared for a disaster or an emergency.
  • Less than 10 percent of Americans have documented or safely stored personal, financial, emergency, household, medical and legal information. 
  • Everyday workforce disruptions are already costing our nation billions of dollars due to the lack of personal preparedness for events, such as home fires, identity theft, eldercare, childcare, unexpected death, etc.
  • A sizeable percentage of businesses with emergency preparedness and business continuity plans have not adequately accounted for human resiliency.
  • There is a link between personal and family preparedness and organizational readiness and resilience, and it is vital to building a national culture of resilience.


We also mentioned the need for government and industry to invest in helping individuals see themselves as capable, connected, adaptable and self-sufficient, rather than dependent, victimized, or helpless. This will affect their decisions, actions and ability to cope in the face of disaster, emergency or crisis. We stated that the collective return on the investment made in this regard can be enormous for our country. Let’s take a further look at the return on such an investment.  

The lack of personal resilience adversely impacts organizations every single day. Things like home fires -- the leading disaster in America -- divorce, elder- and child-care, urgent home repairs, accidents, bankruptcy and other personal issues cause lost productivity and unscheduled absenteeism and presenteeism which cost the nation over $268 billion annually. 

Presenteeism is defined as an employee that has come to work, but is not fully engaged. Presenteeism accounts for 61 percent of an individual’s total lost productivity and medical costs. What’s particularly illuminating is that 60-70 percent of all employee assistance plan requests are legal services to cover estate planning, family law, divorce, real estate and bankruptcy. 

Nearly 30 percent of employees come to work at least 5 days when they are too distracted to be ffective. Roughly 28 percent of workers take time off for care giving, and 25 percent took at least one hour/day to deal with personal issues. 

With respect to absenteeism, roughly 60 percent of all unscheduled absences are related to personal issues other than illness. Un-preparedness for these everyday disruptions becomes magnified during an emergency, costing industry millions of dollars for every hour it takes an employee to be available to their employer. In order to improve daily productivity and survivability, particularly in times of crisis, emergency or disaster, there must be a shift from readiness to resilience. 

Organizational resilience becomes evident when employees have addressed the highest priority they have in a threatening situation -- the safety and security of themselves, their family and other loved ones -- and that they have developed the means to restore critical life information in order to reduce recovery time when bad things happen. This is particularly important for employees, such as first responders, emergency managers and continuity planners, if they or other family members are also impacted by an event.  

All risk management plans, whether housed in a business, an agency of first responders or community support agencies, rely on a single common asset: people. Yet conventional approaches to emergency management and continuity plans assume, all too often, that people will be available to execute emergency plans and procedures. Although some organizations have rosters of two to three (and perhaps even four) people deep who can perform critical roles and responsibilities in the event of crisis, emergency or disasters, the fact of the matter is that if the most experienced people on the roster are not available, it puts extra strain on the organization and produces sub-optimal effectiveness unless, of course, the organization has developed a robust cross-training program to ensure that everyone on an emergency roster knows how to perform the roles and responsibilities of the position they may have to assume when the balloon goes up. 

If the entire U.S. workforce of 140 million people had a personal resilience plan to help them cope better and recover more quickly from a personal or community crisis, emergency or disaster, there would be a much higher probability that employees would be able to provide their employers at least an additional full day of focused work on the job each year. 

In fact, availability for just one extra day per year would save $32 billion dollars on an annual basis (140M x 29.18/hr x 8 hours (or $233/day). For a company employing 5,000 employees, yearly savings could be $1.165 million. For 1,000-employee organization, the savings could be nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

Over time, a more resilient workforce could save the nation hundreds of billions of dollars. This fact alone should motivate people, industry and government to examine the issue of personal resilience much more closely.   

We know that less than 10 percent of people have emergency preparedness and recovery plans, but why haven’t organizations invested more in providing enterprise-wide solutions to improve personal resilience? Why do so few companies offer their employees resilience planning tools, either directly or through their employee assistance program (EAP)? It seems like a no-brainer -- particularly when the ROI is not only self-evident, but in the nation’s economic best interest. 

While we mentioned the reasons why in our last article, the reason why a large majority of organizations have not taken a serious look at how personal and family preparedness impact their organization’s bottom line must be because they are not aware of the tools that can increase employee resilience.   

We do know that virtually all HR offices provide a variety of EAP offer specific programs to help employees who are sick, or have family emergencies, or need legal or other help to solve important problems. These problems account for a lot of workplace stress and low productivity. Human resources managers are only now learning the real value of investing in personal resilience. Emergency management and security professionals need to spend some quality time meeting with HR and other organization officials to explain this issue, raise awareness and assist them in institutionalizing viable personal resilience solutions. 

When over 90 percent of people and families do not have a preparedness plan, they have to scramble to respond and recover from unexpected events. Simply being “ready” for an unexpected event misses the opportunity to plan for recovery. This effectively delays the amount of time an employee needs to be available to his/her company or organization in the event of an emergency -- personal or otherwise. This is why national guidelines are evolving from readiness to resilience. The challenge is getting both individuals and organizations to realize that investing in personal resilience is vital to both their and their employer’s success.  

Beyond specific plans that ensure the safety and security of family members during an emergency, the largest impact to employee availability after an event is the restructuring of the employee’s life (or that of the employee’s family), from securing alternate shelter to the re-building of personal records. Concern for what it takes after an event for an individual to recover must be recognized and communicated more widely. 

A 2009 Citizens Corps National Survey, Personal Preparedness in America, indicated that only 2 percent of respondents had stored financial documents in a restorable format or alternate location. Only 9 percent had recorded the names, dosage and frequency of the medications their family members have to take, and only 1 percent had made arrangements to copy and store personal identification. How long would it take you to find critical information if you lost it in a fire, flood or simply couldn’t find it in short order if you needed it quickly.  

If we are now convinced about the efficacy of strengthening personal resilience, what do we need invest in? Beyond investing time to raise awareness, communicate the possible savings and foster momentum in building personal and family plans, there are a number of free and relatively inexpensive tools on the market to help people and families prepare for and recover from an unexpected event. However, many of these tools and the zillion checklists that can be found on the Internet provide an overwhelming amount of information that can leave the average individual exhausted in trying to apply this information in a relevant, coherent manner. The paper-based family emergency plan can be lost. Many personal preparedness planning tools and checklists are not designed to address both an individual’s resilience and how it relates to  supporting his/her employer’s business continuity, disaster recovery or workforce preparedness challenges -- particularly if the individual has to perform specific roles and responsibilities in an emergency in support of his or her employer.  

More importantly, many tools available for free or in the marketplace address preparedness, but not personal recovery. Again, this is critical for employees that have specific emergency or continuity roles and responsibilities in the organization. Many tools are too expensive for the average worker, have low levels of security and do not offer customer support to help the user when questions arise. Very few, if any, are focused on simplifying the information needed to recover from a wide array of disruptive events, organizing this information in simple, highly restorable formats, and guiding the individual through a personal risk assessment that examines prevention, preparation and recovery from commonly occurring emergencies to natural disasters, as they relate to individual’s specific job or geographic location. 

In summary, few tools available today: 

  1. Provide understanding for why individual and family preparedness is needed;
  2. Actually guide the individual through the process of preparing an adequate plan;
  3. Acknowledge the benefits of self-reliance;
  4. Make it simple and easy to gather the information needed for themselves, their family or employer;
  5. Shorten the time required to achieve demonstrable resilience;
  6. Provide proper security of the individual’s personal data, and ensure access to it when needed. 

In proclaiming this month, November 2013, as “Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month”, the president of the United States stated: “…as we recognize that safeguarding our critical infrastructure is an economic and security imperative, let each of us do our part to build a more resilient Nation.”  

We applaud the president for penning his proclamation and call to action, and we penned this article to bring attention to security and emergency management professionals the importance of making individuals and senior-level decision makers in their organizations more aware of the need to strengthen personal resilience. By doing so, all of us can “do our partto help achieve and maintain a demonstrably effective national resilience posture. 

The faster we work to help make this happen, the faster all Americans will more clearly understand the risks they face; work together before, during and after emergencies to ensure resilience activities are informed by local knowledge and capabilities and are thus undertaken more safely; complement the work of first responders and other disaster response and recovery agencies; and know what to do, who to call, and what to expect when disaster strikes. 

Ann Coss is the founder and president of Personal Recovery Concepts, LLC and a leader in personal resilience planning for individuals, families and public, private and non-profit organizations. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Ronald Bearse is the president of Nauset National Security Group, LLC in Hyannis, MA, and served in a variety of analytical, managerial and leadership positions within the national security emergency preparedness community during his 20+ year career with the departments of defense, homeland security and treasury. He can be reached at:

[email protected]



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