Does your small business have a disaster plan in place? One glance at the headlines on any given day should be enough to convince you that disaster can strike anytime, anywhere. From blackouts to blizzards, from hurricanes to floods, Mother Nature has many ways of throwing a monkey wrench into your business.
A good disaster plan can protect your employees, your property and your business. It also makes it easier for your business to get up and running again after the disaster is over. Here are six steps to follow to create an emergency response plan.
- Identify potential risks to your business and what their effect could be. Different areas of the country are susceptible to different kinds of disasters. Once you've identified risks, assess how likely each is to happen, and what the impact on your business would be. For example, if your business is in a flood zone and you have valuable equipment on the ground floor, the impact could be quite extreme. Your business insurance agent can ensure you have adequate insurance for likely risks, especially disasters such as floods or earthquakes that typically aren't included in the standard business owner's insurance policy.
- Plan your immediate response. If a disaster strikes while you and your employees are at work, what will you do? You need a plan for how to evacuate the building or otherwise keep employees safe, where to regroup afterwards, and how to make sure everyone is accounted for. Put together an emergency kit that includes water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, flashlights, tools, batteries and a battery-operated radio.
- Get employees involved. To help maintain order and act quickly during an emergency, it helps to have employees designated to lead evacuations, do head counts and otherwise take charge. Designate a leader and a second-in-command for each department or workgroup. You can even put a team of employees in charge of developing your disaster plan.
- Plan for rapid communication. Put together a contact list that has multiple ways to get in touch with everyone on your staff (including home phone, cell phone, work email, personal email, etc.). Set up companywide group email and text lists you can use to instantly alert everyone of critical information. For example, if nearby fires cut off power lines to the area early in the morning, you can tell employees who are still at home not to bother coming in.
- Create a business continuity plan. How would you keep your business running if you couldn’t access your facility for weeks or even months? Could employees work from home? Could you sublet space from another business? What types of co-working spaces are available nearby? Also consider the locations of key suppliers, contractors and partners. If they are likely to be affected by the same disaster, you might need to develop relationships with some backups in other parts of the country.
- Organize your data. Be prepared before disaster strikes by putting critical information in the cloud where you and your employees can access it from anywhere. This includes employee, vendor and customer contact information; financial data, such as account information, tax documents and returns, and bookkeeping records; insurance documents; and anything else you would need to run your business remotely. Protect sensitive information by giving access to employees only as needed.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a wealth of resources to help you develop an emergency preparedness plan for your business.