Does your company have an “active” emergency preparedness plan? Do you know what “business continuity” means in the disaster planning arena? Do you have proper contingencies in place for response and “recovery”?     

Emergency preparedness includes natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornados and wildfires. Other “man-made” actions that can affect your business includes mass shootings, bomb threats, labor strikes, tort liability lawsuits, and cyber/computer attacks. A proactive plan can help address many of the issues faced before, during, and after a disaster strikes. An emergency preparedness plan doesn’t need to be a huge binder of information. A better tool for many small and medium sized companies is a simple program and risk checklist with sections on developing a crisis management team, conducting a company risk assessment including identifying the threats and hazards associated with disasters, and emergency response procedures for incidents.

For management, keeping the business productive (business continuity) should be part of the disaster planning discussion, and training staff to continue operations is crucial. The crisis management team (CMT) can help companies address questions such as: Do we have adequate first aid ready to go? What preparations and maintenance do we need to be ready for fires and injuries?  How will employees be notified? How will customers be serviced? What happens if our suppliers are affected? How do we coordinate recovery efforts? How do we maintain a business presence? 

To keep the plan “active”, the CMT should conduct regular drills or practice specific scenarios to test the plan’s effectiveness and to identify any potential missed items and single points of failure (the lack of redundancy). Each company will have their own departments that should be included in the CMT. Examples of departments participating in the CMT include Operations, Project Management, Human Resources, Information Technology, and Facilities. It may be a good idea to include the company insurance provider as they often have additional loss control resources and suggestions.                 

A risk assessment for disaster scenarios can be done by preparing a prioritized checklist of issues that could affect your company. A company in the Midwest should certainly have tornadoes high on the list yet not so concerned about hurricanes. The opposite is true for a Florida company. Every possible type of threat to an organization can’t be identified but a risk assessment can help prioritize efforts. In addition to “geographically typical” or foreseeable natural disasters, several other key risks to address include epidemics/disease, legal obligations/contracts, regulatory citations, and loss of key personnel. Cybercrime/cybersecurity is an important issue that deserves attention.

Emergency response can be viewed as three parts: immediate response, short term actions, and long term affects.  Immediate response should include orderly evacuation or shelter in place procedures, first aid kits and preparation for injuries or illnesses, ensuring proper phone numbers and contacting authorities such as fire, police and ambulance (EMTs), as well as building security and poison control. Safeguarding assets is part of initial response including fire/building protection.  

Short term actions include contacting equipment repair companies and utilities to get back online. This should not be delayed since many other businesses will be in the same dilemma needing to get equipment and machinery repaired and electric or gas back in service. For HVAC companies, be prepared for increased commercial and residential customer demands to repair damaged HVAC systems.

Long term affects (recovery) involves assessing the extent of damage and includes processing insurance claims, possible negative public relations if your company was at fault, switching suppliers and vendors, notifying clients and customers, possible changes in how work is conducted due to loss of equipment or machinery, and other actions to avoid further losses. 

The bottom line with dealing with disasters and unforeseen emergencies is that the more preparation a company has in place, the better the entire organization will communicate and function before, during, and after the incident. Preparation can avoid injury and illness, save lives, and reduce the monetary losses that are the heartbreaking parts of disasters and emergencies.