I have never imagined my employer would throw me and my fellow colleagues into neck-deep water when the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) had failed, said a shocked employee who recollected the anxious moments faced by them during Chennai floods. She is not the only one who faced that situation. There has been lot of talks among IT employees regarding the difficulties they faced during the BCP. Let us look into how the People Capability Maturity Model (PCMM) certified IT companies have handled this.
What is BCP?
Business Continuity Plan or BCP, is a plan to continue operations if a place of business is affected by natural disasters, theft, or flooding. For example, if a fire destroys an office building or data center, the people and business or data center operations would relocate to a recovery site. The recovery site may be either a safe location inside the same company campus or nearby company campus within the city or even company campuses out of the city.
Chennai Floods and BCP
Chennai faced heavy rains on Dec 1 and city was getting water-logged gradually. Many of the schools, colleges and offices began to shut down from afternoon itself. Even some IT companies too started closing down from the afternoon of December 1, 2015. But, other IT companies continued to operate until evening leaving many of its employees and their vehicles get stranded in water-logged roads. Many employees faced heavy losses due to this action by the companies. But this ordeal had not ended for those employees who were identified by their companies for BCP.
Employees identified by the companies were asked to come to office the next day for BCP. Already the city was far from normal and Chennaites were facing an unusual situation. It was raining continuously. But employees have to leave their families amidst the situation and come to office believing that their companies will take care of their safety. But what happened next was a shock for their lifetime for the employees. Here is my own personal experience.
Thrown into water
This is a company located in Sholinganallur in a wide spread campus. Around 500 people were identified as key resources for ensuring that the business was not affected due to the rains. For women employee’s accommodation was arranged in the in-campus guesthouse and for male employees the accommodation was arranged in the cafeteria. We had to bear the inconvenience due to insufficient restrooms. But the ground situation was not in favor of the BCP. The whole campus was flooded and there was no electricity, food and water. As there were no possibilities to continue the business in our campus and no proper support system was present for employee’s minimal survival, our management had decided to send us home.
What followed is a nightmare. We got into the boats as campus was surrounded by waist deep water. When the boats reached the main gate of the company campus, we were told to get down. When we objected, it was told that the responsibility of the employer on employees’ safety ends at the campus gate. Our arguments went in vain and we were literally thrown into water. This included women employees too. We were not even given a rope which would help us from falling into water. We had to walk down around 2 km to reach main road in 3 to 4 feet water. It was raining also and water current was quite strong at places. We were sure if any employee had suffered wheezing or fits, it wouldn’t have been possible to save the employee. A distressing scene was, there was a pregnant lady who was also not exempted from the trouble. She got panicked and started crying. The fisherman of the passing-by boat of the nearby company helped the pregnant lady. Kudos to those fishermen! It showed precisely how the PCMM certified companies have taken advantage of the employees and cared the least for employees even during a calamity.
Few of you might still think that ‘admins’ who have planned and implemented BCP wouldn’t have expected such a heavy rain, so, ‘admins’ cannot be blamed for this calamity. Let us see how the employees who travelled to other cities for BCP had been managed there. This is the experience of my colleague and she was sent to Bangalore. We need to remember there were no rains in Bangalore. Around 400 employees were sent to Bangalore for around 5 days but the trip was extended up to around 25 days. Once Chennai had settled down with normalcy, management has decided to bring those employees back to Chennai on a weekday. No rationality on why a weekday was chosen but still the employees were expected to come to office the day they landed in Chennai. With this expectation, a sleeper bus should have been arranged for them that too did not happen, 5-seater per row was arranged for the employees. This IT Company is located in Shollinganallur, obviously, employees would be staying in and around Shollinganallur but employees were dropped at Koyambedu and were told to apply leave if they couldn’t come to office that day. How rude is this? We are sure people were treated as resources. The bus which was arranged from Chennai to Bangalore did not have the permit to cross Tamil Nadu border, employees including women, were stranded on roads for hours together.
Questions from employees
- On December 1, 2015, due to heavy rain, most of the companies have evacuated the employees from 1 pm. But, few companies have closed the office only after 4 pm. Why?
- Employees were sent to other cities at such critical times like natural calamity. Who is going to help their families and the neighbourhood?
- Support and house-keeping staffs have undergone tremendous pressure to keep up the company during two heavy rains i.e. November-2015 and December-2015. Were they given enough compensation in terms of money and break?
- Have these companies learnt any lessons during a calamity like Chennai floods? Have they been shared among employees for awareness and better safety in future? Any best practices been captured?
- Was there any meeting held with higher management to understand the challenges and trauma faced by employees and support staff who had gone through to support BCP? If not, why?
When IT companies could not even protect their own employees during the crisis, how can we expect them to have proper functioning of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). IT companies work for their profit even at the cost of its own employee’s safety and well-being. It was well evident during a calamity like Chennai floods. A lot of ITians would have faced a similar situation but wouldn’t have a platform to express it to fellow ITians.
When we were thrown into water even without a rope, we held each other’s hand formed a human chain for our own survival. Yes, we have proved that standing together is important for our survival and safety. Uniting is the only way to address our concerns and regulate issues like BCP keeping in mind the safety and rights of IT employees.
Dear ITians, UNITE! Join FITE!
(The author, Vasumathi is Vice- President, FITE Chennai Chapter, currently working in a major IT Company in Chennai. She can be reached out via email@example.com)