You may know that you’re at risk for a wildfire or a tornado or a flood, but you’ll never know when an extreme weather event will hit. Even with some advance warning of a super storm, you won’t know the true intensity until you’re in the thick of it. And an event does not have to be of Katrina or Sandy-sized proportion to have a devastating impact on your business. A long-term local power outage could shut your doors for days. This is why you need a comprehensive emergency plan that includes worst-case contingencies.
As you design your plan, here are some key considerations:
Protect your employees
Saving lives always comes before saving property. Design safe evacuation procedures and designate offsite meeting areas to make it easier to ascertain who is safe and who is missing. This is particularly important in larger buildings and for businesses operating potentially dangerous machinery or handling hazardous materials.
Minimize potential damage to your physical property
Identify essential structures, products, equipment, inventory and utility services and install prevention and safety systems to protect them. For example, surge protectors and uninterrupted power supplies can prevent damage to electronic equipment. Storm shutters can protect windows and prevent debris from entering your buildings. Secured tarps can minimize water damage to inventory stored outside.
Secure records and data
If your business relies heavily on the bits and bytes on your computers, you need backup plans with multiple redundancies. Use software to automatically run scheduled backups to external local hard drives and also regularly backup to remote servers using a cloud-based service. Scan important documents and include them in your digital backups. Keep originals in a safe approved by Underwriters Laboratories or at a secure offsite location. Maintaining current photo and video records of your business assets can make it easier to itemize losses that may help speed up insurance assessments.
Operate from remote locations
Create a business continuity plan that spells out how you will continue to serve your customers and clients if your primary facilities are damaged. Identify different locations outside your immediate area where you can at least conduct some of the administrative and strategic planning parts of your business. Your emergency plan may also include setting aside “rainy day” funds to help in recovery efforts.
Communicate with your workforce and customers
In a disaster, if you don’t know what’s going on, the stress level goes way up. So it’s important to have several ways to communicate internally and externally. Weather disasters often knock out electrical power, phone and cable lines, even cell towers. For backup electrical power, consider gas generators. If phone lines are down and cell systems are overloaded, making voice calls difficult, text messages often can get through because they require so little bandwidth. Mass texting apps, such as Call-em-All and One Call Now can broadcast alert messages to large groups from a single triggering phone call or text message. Keep your customers up to date on your status with emails, texts, and social media posts.
Apply for assistance from state and federal agencies
The Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA – is the main federal resource for providing relief and assistance to individuals and businesses during and after a disaster. Keep the FEMA contact points in your emergency kit and on your phone. The U.S. Small Business Administration also offers disaster assistance in the form of low interest loans. Check with your tax professional to see if you can deduct certain disaster-related losses.
Create a comprehensive emergency plan that fits your business needs. The business preparedness and planning resources at ready.gov/business can provide tips.
Schedule regular drills to test the effectiveness of your emergency plan and keep employees up to speed on what to do – and what not to do.
Write up a business continuity plan with specific steps to get your operations back on track. Try to include different “what-if?” scenarios with realistic solutions. FEMA’s ready.gov website offers step-by-step advice.