Disasters are an inevitable part of doing business. It’s a fact of life that has never seemed more obvious than in 2011, as we’ve witnessed a devastating tsunami, earthquakes, tornadoes, fires and flooding.
In the near future, it’s likely your business will be threatened by a critical event that could dramatically impact operations. Because disasters don’t happen regularly, they are often overlooked until it’s too late. Organizations that plan in advance often make it through the crisis while those that don’t suffer serious consequences.
The Washington Emergency Management Division, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster officials offer a list of suggestions to help businesses assess the risk of a natural disaster and take action. They include:
- Perform a risk analysis of the most likely type of disaster. If you’re not sure whether your business is at risk from natural hazards, check with local officials, city engineers or planning and zoning administrators.
- Protecting your business from natural disasters involves a variety of actions, from inspecting and maintaining your buildings to installing protective devices. Most of these actions, especially those that affect the structure of your buildings or their utility systems, should be carried out by qualified and licensed maintenance staff or professionals.
- Develop an emergency plan. Assign employees specific tasks. Practice these assignments.
- Simulate events that will help you fine-tune these plans.
- Develop a recovery plan that includes employee contact numbers, alternate operating locations, and backup suppliers.
- Keep tax and payroll records, records of inventory and essential information at an alternate site.
- Protect your data. If computers are vital to your business, back up your system. Make copies of essential information and store the disks in a safe place, preferably off-site.
- Store minimal inventory. Maintain three to five days’ inventory on hand to reduce potential loss.
- Elevate or relocate. Raise computers above the flood level and move them away from large windows. Move heavy and fragile objects to low shelves.
- Develop a working relationship with emergency management agencies, local law enforcement, fire departments and building officials.
Business continuity planning is a common practice for most organizations today. As indicated in the tips above, it goes beyond simply ensuring that technical systems are backed up off-site and establishing redundancies. It encompasses the entire organization from IT to Human Resources.
As experts in workforce/business continuity and disaster response, we frequently find that organizations do not have adequate plans to deal with two key areas of disaster planning and response: getting people out of the building in a disaster, and accurately accounting for individuals who are safe, injured or missing.
While evacuation plans are common, many employees still can’t find the nearest exit to their office. We know from 9/11 that this can contribute to needless deaths and injuries during an evacuation. We would also add the following tips to the government’s checklist:
- Have an evacuation plan in place and walk the routes.
- Identify employees who have obvious mobility challenges, as well as employees who have less-obvious challenges such as those with osteoarthritis, workers who recently had surgery and/or hearing impaired people.
- Once employees exit the building, have them assemble at least 100 yards away.
- Have a system in place for accounting for employees accurately and quickly. Use this information to inform first responders to assist in any rescue efforts.
The SBA also provides assistance after a disaster to businesses, homeowners, renters, personal property owners, or activated military reservists. For more information, visit http://www.sba.gov/content/disaster-preparedness.