A Crash Course in Disaster Preparation for Businesses

It’s never too late to start exercising regularly.  It’s never too late to quit smoking.  It’s never too late to start eating a healthy diet.  However, when a hurricane is barreling up the coast, it may be too late to prepare adequately for the impending disaster. We are an endlessly optimistic society, believing that “it will never happen to me”.

However, preparing ahead of time for a disaster is not pessimism or doomsday thinking.  It’s quite the opposite.  Planning ahead gives you an edge over your competitors.  It provides security and peace of mind for your employees, giving them good reason to remain loyal after the worst case scenario.  It gives you a resource, a tangible plan of attack, a pre-chartered course to take when your head is spinning and you’re trying to think clearly.  With a solid plan in your back pocket, you will not be the one standing in a pile of rubble wondering where to start or what to do.  You will be the one who squares their shoulders, pulls out the list, and starts working – and is back up and running with new inventory and safe, healthy employees, before you know it.

When we think of “preparing for disaster”, we think of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and earthquakes.  However, disasters are not always Natural Disasters.  Terrorism and workplace violence are an increasing threat.  Be proactive and think through a lock down and response plan ahead of time.

The Basics:

  1.  Don’t count on your cell phone.  If an area is without electricity for several days or weeks, it may be difficult or impossible to charge your phone.    As a society, we don’t memorize phone numbers anymore – they are stored in our cell phones.   Write down important phone numbers the old fashioned way, and store them away from your primary location, so that if you can get to a land line, you will have the necessary numbers available.
  2. Create a plan for communicating with your employees in the aftermath of a disaster – and review this plan with your employees on an annual basis.  You don’t want the “new guy” to be kept out of the loop just because he missed last year’s meeting.
  3. Back up. Back up. Back up.   Back up your data and your critical files.  Store this information in the Cloud or on portable drives or servers that are NOT located at your primary facility.  Create a plan for backing up your data either monthly or quarterly – whatever works best for your size business.
  4. Storage.  Do not store important files, documents or old computers & hard drives in the basement or the lowest level of your facility.  The basement and lowest levels of a building are the most susceptible to flooding damage.  If you must store them on site, put them on the top floor or in an attic storage space.  Avoid cardboard.  Plastic storage bins are more likely to keep out humidity, rodents and water.
  5. Research.  Know ahead of time what resources are available in your community.  Does FEMA have an office? Are shelters designated?  Does the Red Cross have a headquarters?  Does your community have an evacuation plan that needs to be followed?  Find out ahead of time.
  6. Protect your people.  The value of CPR training and first aid training cannot be over emphasized.  In any disaster, preserving human life is the number one priority.  Provide CPR and first aid training for you entire staff on a yearly basis – so that they can help each other and help the community if a disaster happens.
  7. Unfortunately, work place violence and the possibility of terrorist attacks are a real threat.  And they are a threat to every business in every community.  Every business needs a lockdown procedure as well as a clear shelter-in-place plan and a clear evacuation plan.  Practice.  Do drills with your employees.  If all employees are clear on the plan, and it is well rehearsed, it will reduce panic in the event of an emergency.
  8. Protect our first responders: Evacuate ahead of time when the first notice to evacuate is given.  Too many first responders lose their lives every year, rescuing those who decided to ignore the evacuation orders and “ride out the storm”.
  9. Does your business rely on inventory, parts and supplies from other businesses?  Are those businesses likely to suffer a disaster (e.g. coastal businesses, wildfire hazard zones, higher risk chemical plants etc.)?  Have a back-up plan if the suppliers you normally use are suddenly unavailable.
  10. Insurance.  Insurance cannot cover everything for you.  However, it is designed to make your business whole again, following a disaster, when used correctly.  The cost to re-build a building is often very different from its market value.  Make sure your buildings are insured to their correct rebuilding cost.  Make sure that your business income insurance includes coverage for power outages.  Flooding is NOT covered by a traditional business property policy – the only way to cover flooding is with a Flood Insurance policy.   Most business policies exclude coverage for earthquakes – if you’re on a fault line, make sure this coverage is added back in.

The Federal Government and national organizations such as the CDC and the American Red Cross, have developed significant resources over the last few years in an effort to help businesses prepare, protect their employees, and mitigate damage after it has occurred.

  1. FEMA
  2. American Red Cross
  3. Center for Disease Control
  4. Federal Government/Homeland Security
  5. OSHA

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