Disaster and Emergency Planning To Ensure Continuity at Work
By Mark Swartz
Think about all the time and money you’ve invested in your business. Building basic infrastructure. Promoting your goods and services. Hiring dedicated employees. Yet what would happen to all of this if a disaster or emergency struck?
Planning for a catastrophe is low on the list of priorities. It should be higher, though, considering the costs of being unprepared. Fires and floods, computer viruses and workplace violence, can upend years of hard work.
You owe it to your employees (and yourself) to be ready for the worst. Disaster planning doesn’t take an excessive amount of time. It can save lives and preserve your business continuity.
Disaster Versus Emergency
Not long ago historic flooding occurred in Southern Alberta. Four people were confirmed dead, over 100,000 people were displaced, and many buildings were ruined. In Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a train derailed and exploded violently. 47 people lost their lives. More than 30 buildings in the town's centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed.
These are tragic disasters. One was natural, the other man-made. In each case the effects were terrible and widespread. There was death, property damage, displacement of people and businesses.
Emergencies, on the other hand, tend to be on a somewhat smaller scale. They usually affect fewer people and last for a shorter duration.
Preparation Is Vital
You can’t prevent natural disasters. Nor can you anticipate every man-made emergency. Instead, you can prepare for the worst and have your employees ready to act in an orderly fashion.
If not, you place your company’s survival in peril. According to the Canada’s Emergency Management and Public Safety Institute, up to 86% of small and medium businesses fail within three years of a major emergency if no plan is in place.
Create A Basic Emergency Plan
When disaster strikes, there isn’t much time to react. An emergency plan lets employees know how to get out of harm’s way immediately.
You can create a plan internally or hire a disaster management firm. Either way, you’ll identify risks and potential crises. Then a step-by-step process is established to handle each one. Follow up by designating and training specific employees on their role in an emergency
Here are some of the basic elements to include in your emergency plan:
- evacuation routes as well as a shelter-in-place location, emergency exits and an off -site meeting location for staff (all of which should be posted for employees to read)
- location of an emergency kit stocked with appropriate supplies
- procedures for assisting people with disabilities and special needs
- how to secure the premises
- access to important personal information about employees, e.g. contact numbers for their home, next-of-kin, and medical care
Protect Critical Property And Systems
Once you’ve anticipated the safety needs of your staff, your equipment and data should be protected. There are two things in particular to take care of.
Regarding business data, this includes your electronic files and paper documents. Electronic data should be backed up regularly, not just on physical storage but in a secure cloud server away from your premises. Vital paper documents and cash can be stored in a fireproof safe.
Insuring belongings and data is the other aspect to care for. Make sure there are the right kinds (and amounts) of insurance in place. Keep the policies current. Add business interruption insurance if not already there.
Produce Business Continuity Procedures
What will you do if the disaster drags on or the emergency leaves destruction in its wake? A business contingency plan will guide you through the aftermath. The Public Health Agency of Canada provides this Business Continuity Planning Resource and Checklists
Have the names of external contacts handy. Include suppliers, property managers, facility operators, business partners, insurers, a restoration firm, and the like. Let them know that you are in business-interruption mode. Manage expectations and see if they can assist in any way.
Your employees need continuity as well. Aid them by providing a range of post-emergency services. Salary continuation, cash advances and reduced or flexible work hours help. If there has been trauma, offer crisis counselling too.
Better To Be Over Prepared Than Sorry
The viability of your business depends on its ability to survive. That’s why succession planning and disaster preparation are so important.
You can always replace property or machinery. So employee safety should trump everything else in a crisis. Look after that and the rest is just a matter of restoring continuity according to plan.