Develop and Test an Emergency Plan
Although no plan can cover every situation, a good one will be versatile enough to maximize a business’s chances for survival.
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends five elements that every emergency management plan should have.
- Program Management:
The first thing a business should do is designate a program coordinator to lead the development of the plan. If possible, the coordinator should work with a committee and be responsible for achieving the goals of the program within the scope and budget established.
Once the coordinator and committee are in place, they should research the laws and regulations that will frame the plans.
Every state, county and municipality have different regulations for things that businesses are required to do after a disaster. For example, after a major snow storm business owners may be required to clear their sidewalks in a certain amount of time. In order to avoid potentially costly fines, business owners should understand applicable rules from every level of government, municipal to federal.
To effectively plan for a disaster, business owners will need to understand their risks, as well as the minimum amount of service needed to bring their business back online.
Conduct an impact analysis to determine the company’s biggest risk, and research how best to defend against or react to them.
It is important to budget, to whatever extent possible, for the costs associated with a disaster such as increased overtime/contractor expenses during the rebuilding process, regulatory fines, customer dissatisfaction or defection, and lost or delayed sales and income.
PSE&G advises not to assume that key stakeholders in a plan are on board with it. If a plan requires the involvement of plumbers, the fire department, police, local utility, or any other third-party, make sure to get their “sign off” ahead of time so it’s not discovered during an emergency that expectations for them were unrealistic.
The SBA explains that implementation of the plan includes identifying the resources available, writing plans and training employees to execute them.
Everyone in a company should have a defined role, and it is important to spread the information around to all employees so that everyone is prepared.
And, to help spread that information, it is critical to have a plan in place to communicate with employees, customers, the news media and stakeholders.
For instance, it is vital to establish a plan for communicating with employees that does not rely on power or fully-functioning cellphone towers. AT&T advises businesses to utilize text messaging, Twitter and traditional POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines.
Once a plan is in place, it is important to test it regularly, at least once or twice a year, with make-believe disasters to ensure that it works.
AT&T advises testing backup generators, POTS lines, communications plan and backup IT servers regularly to ensure that they still work. It is also important to have the committee propose and test against worst-case disaster scenarios to see how the plans would hold up in a real-life situation.
- Program Improvement:
Following a test or actual incident, a critique should be conducted to assess the response to it.
However, the SBA recommends that tests and disasters are not the only times a plan would need to be reviewed and updated. Other things that could trigger review include: regulatory changes, newly identified hazards, funding or budget changes, new product or service launches, company mergers and new location openings, significant changes to your suppliers or supply chain, and significant increases in workforce population.