Monday Mornings with Madison

Preparing a Business for Emergencies

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Estimated Read Time: 5 ½  min.

While it might seem impossible to prepare for the “unexpected”, business owners must think about and prepare for crisis situations. Some of those might be man-made, such as a cyber attack by hackers. More commonly, though, those unexpected events are those of nature, such as the massive flooding of the last few weeks experienced in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey and the rampant forest fires that are sweeping through California right now. Blizzards. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. There is no limit to the kinds of crises that businesses can experience, and they can happen anywhere, any time. Whether natural or man-made, these events are a cautionary admonition that the unexpected can and does happen.

It is up to business leaders to prepare for all types of emergencies in order to offset the impact of those situations on the bottom line. So how does a business owner prepare for the unexpected? Regardless of the location or type of business, every company should have an Emergency Preparedness Plan to deal with crisis situations. It is just good sense for every company to have and share its plan of action with staff. And some measures should be thought through and taken long before an emergency occurs. If no plan exists, it’s time to create one. Here are some things to consider in developing a corporate Emergency Preparedness Plan.

Think Big Picture

Some employees think that disaster mitigation is “not their job.”  But being prepared for an emergency is everyone’s job.  Every employee should think about how to help the employer withstand a crisis.  What questions should be considered and discussed with management up the chain of command?  It is best if one person spearheads the exercise to identify all the issues and considerations.  Here are some steps to follow.

1.  Type of Emergency

First, consider the kinds of disasters, both natural and man-made, that are most likely to occur to the business, given its industry and location.  But, be cautious about writing off certain scenarios as “impossible.”  For example, who would have guessed that nearly half the coast of Texas could experience the kind of rainfall and flooding that Hurricane Harvey brutally delivered weeks ago?  It is precisely the kind of epic disaster that most think is “never gonna happen” until it happens.  And this out-of-the-box thinking should also be related to the industry.  For instance, while a decade ago no one would have thought of a hospital as a prime target for cyber attacks, it has now become a distinct possibility.  While not all emergencies can be predicted, planning should include both the obvious (a tornado in the plains states or a blizzard in northern states) and the less likely (a terrorist attack or cyber hacking).  Make a list of all the types of crisis that “could” occur, even the ones that are highly unlikely.

2.  Communication

Think about how staff will communicate with government agencies, vendors and one another, depending on the type of emergency.  In certain cases, local authorities may or may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what should be done. However, it is important to stay connected for information or official instruction as it becomes available.  Viable communication tools will vary from community to community.  In big cities, cell phone towers might remain operational, such as was seen in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.  But land lines might be compromised due to flooding.  One common method is to broadcast via emergency radio and TV broadcasts. In case of tornadoes, there might be a special siren.  In other instances, there might be a telephone call.  Or emergency workers might go door-to-door. The key is to stay connected and alert.  Posting messages to a company’s social media page or sending out a group email can help keep the lines of communication open but only if electricity and internet are unaffected.

3.  Evacuation

Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the emergency, the first important decision is whether to stay put or evacuate. A good Emergency Plan should understand and plan for both possibilities. Use common sense and available information to determine if there is an immediate danger.

There may be situations when it’s simply best to stay put and avoid any uncertainty outside.  There are other circumstances when staying put and creating a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air or water outside is crucial.  This process is known as “sealing the room.”  Use available information to assess the situation. If there are large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is contaminated, consider taking that kind of action. The process used to seal the room is a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between people and potentially contaminated air outside.

4.  In Case of Emergency Contact

For a company that may not all be located in one central place, it is helpful to identify an out-of-town contact. In an emergency, as was the case immediately after 9-11, it may be easier to make a long-distance phone calls than to call across town.  An out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated members of a company. Ensure every member of the team or family knows the phone number and has a cell phone, coins, or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact.

Those with a cell phone should program a contact in the phone directory designated as the “ICE” (In Case of Emergency).  In an accident, emergency personnel will check cell phone ICE listings to get a hold of the emergency contact. The ICE should be told – in advance – that he/she is listed as the emergency contact, and that person should have instructions of what to do in such circumstances.

Even if phones lines are not working properly, use text messaging (also known as SMS or Short Message Service). Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not get through.  Another good idea is to subscribe to an alert service. Many communities now have systems that will send instant text alerts or e-mails to communicate information about bad weather, road closings, local emergencies, etc.

5.  Protect Files

Businesses should back-up computer files to a remote location far from the main computers.  Backed-up files should be tested to ensure that they can be restored easily after an emergency. Computer towers should be placed on desks, instead of below them, to reduce the chance of damage due to a flood or even just a burst water pipe.

6.  Power

Companies that need to be operational immediately after an emergency should invest in a backup generator to ensure power is available even if utilities are down.  This is especially true for regional and national companies that may need to continue servicing customers in parts of the country not affected by the emergency.  Fuel for a generator also needs to be available and stored properly.

Businesses can do much to prepare for the impact of the many hazards they face in today’s world.  The time to start planning for an emergency is now.  One source to assist with this is https://www.ready.gov/business.   Business Ready breaks down the process into five stages as follows:

Program Management

  • Organize, develop and administer a preparedness program
  • Identify regulations that establish minimum requirements for the program

Planning

  • Gather information about hazards and assess risks
  • Conduct a business impact analysis (BIA)
  • Examine ways to prevent hazards and reduce risks

Implementation – Write a preparedness plan addressing:

  • Resource management
  • Emergency response
  • Crisis communications
  • Business continuity
  • Information technology
  • Employee assistance
  • Incident management
  • Training

Testing and Exercises

  • Test and evaluate the plan
  • Define different types of exercises
  • Learn how to conduct exercises
  • Use exercise results to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan

Program Improvement

  • Identify when the preparedness program needs to be reviewed
  • Discover methods to evaluate the preparedness program
  • Utilize the review to make necessary changes and plan improvements

Following these steps, any company can be prepared to face any emergency situation and ensure that the business is able to overcome it intact.

Quote of the Week

“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” Arnold H. Glasgow

 

© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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