Supporting Coworkers During a Crisis

Jan. 24, 2019
If your shop is located in an area where natural disasters are somewhat common, it’s imperative to periodically practice emergency procedures.

By now you’ve probably heard about the 7.0 earthquake my town, Anchorage, Ak., endured back on Friday, Nov. 30. It made for a crazy, crazy week.

This thing hit me like a freight train.

It happened at 8:30 in the morning, and by about 9:15 we had shut all three of our Anchorage-area facilities down. The biggest reason why we shut them down was so that our employees could go home and check on their families and houses.

The whole town was in a pretty decent amount of chaos; roads were completely demolished. I mean, peoples’ houses looked like burglars came through and opened every cabinet and just threw everything on the ground. It was pretty crazy.

I communicated with the staff by email over the weekend because that’s the only way I could reach them. So the whole staff came in on the next Monday and we had a meeting right away. I said, “Okay, an engineer came in and condemned our main building.” I knew that, if I had to vacate this building, I had to put every employee somewhere, and I just don’t have enough space at my other two locations to place 40 people.

So I told my staff “Engineers and contractors are saying we might need to vacate this main location. But my maintenance guy and I don’t agree with them. So here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to take a vote, and this is going to be at your own risk; if you don’t feel safe here, I will relocate you. But I want to vote on if you’d like to stay here and keep working.”

So we voted and, unanimously, everyone said “We want to stay and work.” The buy-in from our staff was very important, to have them believing in our plan. You had a team come together, which was very impressive.

So, we had no idea if the building’s going to come down, and, meanwhile, I ended up getting extremely sick throughout the process. My head was spinning, like “What the hell am I going to do here?”

They ended up checking me into the hospital. I had a 104-degree temperature and I had no energy that whole week.     

My whole staff knew I was at about a 104 temperature for much of the week. And everyone was like “What do you need?”

Now I’ve steadily gotten better. But that ordeal really opened my eyes; It left me asking myself: “What would happen if I couldn’t come in to work tomorrow?” I was wondering, if I were in the hospital for weeks, who’s going to do what I do every day? So that whole experience really opened my eyes that I have to have backup plans in everything I do. And now I’m making lists, noting all the tasks I do each day, so I can leave that with my staff in case an emergency pulls me away from the shop for an extended period.

Fortunately, on our staff we have some employees that are very capable, and I had no choice but to lean on them hard this time around. Because I couldn’t be everywhere, all the time.

But, by the next week, my shop leaders and I kind of divided and conquered, and used peoples’ skillset to help any employee with anything that was needed. We divided and conquered and ended up getting everything done that needed to be done.

The aftermath of this natural disaster that our staff dealt with—and the way we handled it —really showed that we’ve invested a lot into our business culture, to develop a solid group that we can all lean on. It was very comforting to know that it wasn’t just 80 people all out for themselves. That was really cool to see.

It really shined through during this time, and I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, if I had to shut our main building down, our team would’ve pulled together in a way that would’ve blown my mind.

About the Author

Ryan Cropper

Ryan Cropper is the former owner of Able Body Shop, with three locations in Anchorage, Alaska, and Total Truck Accessory Center, which recently sold to Classic Collision.

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