Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and waves of illness can all threaten the livelihood of a business of almost any size, but are especially dangerous at small or medium levels. According to the Insurance Information Institute, as much as 40% of businesses affected by a disaster will never re-open. Even without a complete shutdown, you may face inability to meet customer demand and loss of business, you may also experience a loss of confidence in your business by stakeholders. In addition, there is an immediate risk to you and your employees in an environment that is not adequately prepared for things like flooding, fires, and earthquakes. In this article, we’re going to go through the five steps you need to take to prepare your business to take on, well, almost anything.
Step 1 Program Management
The first step is to develop a backbone for your plan and implement it. A big part of this step is identifying the goals for your plan. Here are a few to think about:
Keep your employees, customers, and anyone else in the proximity safe. Make sure that your plan will be executable not only for able-bodied workers, but also for the elderly and those with disabilities.
Minimize interruptions to customer service and production.
Prevent contamination between intentionally separated elements of your operation.
Keep your brand perceptions and reputation intact through a crisis period.
Step 2 Planning
In this step you’re going to brainstorm everything that could possibly be a hazard to your workers in an emergency. With each of these, determine how likely it is that that hazard will harm someone or disrupt one of your goals from step one; you are assessing each hazard’s “risk” factor.
Step 3 Implementation
In the implementation stage, you’re going to be gathering the resources needed to put your plan into action and developing a system that easily trains employees to know your plans. These plans should include evacuation, shelter, transportation, etc., and should be known to all of your staff. Also look at how you will recover machinery and computers in the event that they are damaged or in danger during a natural disaster. When implementing your plan, be sure that there is one person who is in charge of the implementation as a whole. This could be you, or, because it will require a lot of upfront work, it could be someone who is staffed full time to focus purely on emergency preparedness for a period of time.
Step 4 Testing
Just like a family planning to get their children out of their home in an emergency, you should have exercises that run your employees through the plan, meeting points, etc. During these exercises be sure to designate any special roles that individuals or teams working in different places should take on during an evacuation. Who is in charge of grabbing a first aid kit and supplies? If equipment is to be salvaged, determine in which situations this is safe to do and who will do it.
Step 5 Improvement
As you run through your exercises (or on the off chance you have to put your plan to the test in a real emergency soon after it is implemented) be sure that you are constantly re-evaluating all aspects of your system to refine it. Look for potential gaps or problems in communication and fix them as they are found, don’t wait.