FEMA, the Red Cross, and state agencies across the country have not had a moment’s rest this summer.
From forest fires raging up against city boundaries out West to Hurricane Ida’s destructive winds and damaging rains in the East, these groups have worked hard to help individuals and communities survive. But for businesses who made the mistake of not being prepared, disasters like these can have devastating consequences. FEMA and Department of Labor statistics show that 40% of small businesses won’t reopen immediately after an event, and 75% without a continuity plan will fail within three years!
So, what do the experts say are the minimum steps you should take to mitigate damage and interruption during a natural or human-caused disaster?
Is your business future at risk?
Most people are aware that America has more than its share of the world’s natural disasters. Regionally, we are prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, droughts, winter storms, earthquakes, and even volcanoes! But some small business owners risk it all by not having an emergency plan in place. Therefore, especially if you recently put down new roots, get informed about past emergencies in your area as well as new or potential hazards. These might include nearby nuclear or dam facilities, earthquake faults, flood or tornado zones, or hazardous material plants. Work with your insurance agent to protect your business, and do not assume all hazards like floods or earthquakes are covered under a general policy.
Ready.gov offers a free Identify Your Risk: Back-to-Business Self-Assessment (p. 7) that includes a model planning scenario that you and your team can work through to help you more thoroughly identify your risk.
What is the plan before, during, and after disaster strikes?
Preparedness is vital in an emergency. The only thing you will be doing without a plan is assessing the damage!
First, form an emergency planning team that includes top managers, HR, and line-level employees with specific office or plant management skills, first-aid, and emergency response. The team should begin by creating a Continuity of Operations Plan. A COOP focuses on how and when your business will function during and after an emergency. The priority is implementing safety procedures to protect employees, minimize property damage, and recover essential operations.
Practice your plan
Plans always seem to go awry at the implementation stage. That’s why you must practice and assess your emergency plan before disaster strikes! From counting all on-site employees to protecting critical documents and infrastructure, a crisis is an all-hands-on-deck situation, so people need to know what their role is ahead of time. Once your continuity and emergency plans are in place, schedule drills regularly so you can improve procedures each time. Educate your employees so that they have an emergency-ready mindset at work and at home with their families. Doing so will help reduce anxiety if workers can’t immediately return home. People can find information on emergency preparedness and how to create a “Go-Bag” kit on ready.gov.
Resilient businesses bounce back better
While minimizing the risks of a catastrophe and procrastinating on a plan might seem less stressful for people, knowing what to do in a disaster actually builds resiliency in an organization. Being psychologically prepared can help people take the initiative and remain calm when a shock occurs. As a result, your company will be less vulnerable, more empowered, and able to cope the next time disaster threatens.
Resources For Your Continuity Team:
Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Small Business. American Red Cross
Basic Disaster Supplies Kit. Ready.gov
Brooks, Chad. From Covid 19 to Hurricane Season: Disaster Preparedness for Small Business Business.com
FEMA Small Business Continuity Plan Template. Maryland.gov
Inland Flooding Toolkit. General disaster planning guide. Ready.gov
Preparedness Planning for Your Business. Includes toolkits and guides for all disasters. Ready.gov
Top Ten Preparedness Tips. Quick Guide. USchamberfoundation.org