Is your business prepared for a natural disaster? This can be a tough question to answer especially because you may think the odds of a natural disaster impacting your business is pretty small. And, well, it might be. But, if a real natural disaster happened, and your business wasn’t prepared, would your business survive? Unfortunately, it may not.
According to Emergency Management:
- 40% of small businesses won’t reopen after a natural disaster
- If we look one year later, 25% more small businesses will close
- And, if we look three years later, 75% of businesses without a contingency plan will fail
Those stats are a pretty compelling reason to develop a natural disaster contingency plan. But, just in case you aren’t quite convinced yet, that same 2014 data also noted that the average daily loss of a business that closes due to a disaster is $3,000 for small business and $23,000 for medium-sized businesses. And keep in mind that is a daily number.
Occasionally people need staggering numbers like these to motivate them to act – that was the goal with the numbers above. But, with so many different types of natural disasters that could occur, is it even possible for a business to prepare? The answer, as you probably guessed, is yes.
True, each natural disaster brings about its own challenges, but there are a few basics that apply to all potential disasters. Let’s start with those basics.
Develop a Plan
The first step is developing a plan. Your plan should be based on your core business requirements and should answer the broader question “what will we do if a natural disaster strikes?”. There are many details that go into answering that question including:
- Employees: If they are on-site, how will they be protected and where should they go? If they are off-site, what are the off-site work procedures?
- Building: What protocols should be set in motion in a natural disaster situation?
- Equipment: What protocols should be established to ensure equipment is safe, and will not harm employees during the disaster?
- Emergency First Aid Kit: Do you have an emergency kit(s) and is it current?
- Food & Water: Is there a supply of food and water available for my employees for the length of the disaster?
- Data: Is my data backed up? How often?
- Power: Do I have batteries and flashlights and/or will I need a back-up generator?
- Point People: Who will direct team members and be responsible for specific components of the plan?
Answering, and documenting, a plan ahead of time will better equip you, and your team, to act during a disaster situation.
Equip Your Plan
Now that you’ve documented your plan, it’s time to equip your plan. This means that the supplies and other needs identified in your plan need to be purchased or sourced. For example, the non-perishable food and water needs to be purchased and stored in a location that aligns with where employees will go during a natural disaster. Your first aid kit should be stocked, and include any specialty items based on your employee’s health needs.
In addition, backing up your data should begin far before a potential natural disaster strikes. Research and contract with an IT consulting company that can back-up your data frequently, or leverage a reliable, internal source. In either case, the process should begin earlier, rather than later.
The same holds true for power needs like batteries, flashlights or a generator. These elements should be handled prior to a natural disaster to ensure your business has what it needs and is not scrambling mid-disaster.
Practice Your Plan
You can probably hear it now, practice makes perfect. Yep, we said it. Your plan needs to be practiced by your entire organization. Yes, it will take time out of the day, but it could also save an employee’s life and will certainly help ensure everyone knows what to do. So run drills, have your point people practice their responsibilities and do this frequently. Depending on your area, it would be prudent to run a practice drill before typical natural disaster seasons to keep the plan top of mind with you, and employees.
Now, that is the general approach and one you should implement. But, there are some nuances to each type of natural disaster and considerations that should be kept in mind. It’s time to jump into the specifics.
Blackouts and power outages are tricky because they can happen on their own, or in conjunction with another natural disaster. The big issue with blackouts/power outages is whether or not your business can function without power. This will vary dramatically between businesses. A manufacturing business typically relies on machinery for its business and will need a back-up solution in case a blackout lasts a significant amount of time. An office-based business, like an architecture firm, may be able to sustain for a short time without back-up power or need minimal power. The key component is to determine your business’s power needs and plan ahead for that need. Your business may need to invest in a generator, and/or be ready to contract out with a generator company if the power outage lasts a significant amount of time.
In a tornado situation, the best place to be is indoors, and underground. Your business will need to ensure there is adequate space for your staff in a safe, underground location. This is also where your necessary supplies should be stored. Due to location, you likely won’t know when the storm has passed and when it is safe to come out of the designated location. This is where an additional supply comes in handy, a battery-operated NOAA weather radio. This will enable you to stay on top of the situation and know when it is safe to leave your designated area.
Hurricanes can typically be forecasted giving you a slight heads-up of what is coming your way. This small advantage gives your business an opportunity to make a decision to close, or only run critical components of your business leading up to the storm. This means that you will need an efficient way to communicate with your employees. Depending on your size, phone calls, email or text messages could work. Larger businesses, however, may need an automated messaging system. The “how” of contacting employees should be determined ahead of time, and included in your plan.
The other aspect of hurricanes is preparing your facility. Depending on your building structure, you may need to board up windows prior to the hurricane. Again, planning ahead and having materials on-site prior to the storm is your best bet.
Lastly, the aftermath of hurricanes can last a significant amount of time. Plan out how your business will function post-hurricane. Consider whether employees will be able to work on-site, or what factors will require employees to not come into work, for their safety.
Mention Shawne and recent needs for the Florida hurricane, perhaps?
Earthquake preparedness comes in the form of ensuring shelves and anything hanging on the wall are done securely and ensuring heavy things are close to the ground. This will help protect your employees if an earthquake occurs. In addition, keep the phrase drop, cover and hold on in mind. Get down on the ground/floor and stay away from things that could fall on you, cover your head and your neck, and hold on to something that is likely not going to move. Stay in your location until the shaking has stopped. Since an earthquake can happen quickly, your employees may not have time to get to a designated area. Instruct them in the drop, cover and hold on methodology.
Winter storms can come in the form of snow or severe cold. Typically, these types of storms are predicted ahead of time, which again gives you a small window of time to make decisions to keep employees and your building safe. Contact employees ahead of time and provide direction on whether or not to report for work, or to stay home. As noted with hurricanes, calling, emailing or texting may work for smaller businesses, but larger organizations may need to secure an automated messaging system far in advance of winter.
In addition, the impacts of a winter storm can last a few days. Your plan should include information on how your business will function if employees are not physically able to be in your office/facility.
And, one final note. When it comes to natural disasters, listen to the authorities and weather services in your area. If they are providing warnings of upcoming bad weather, react quickly by enacting your practiced plan. And, if the authorities are providing evacuation notices, please evacuate. Often times, they have additional information or know of congestion and are trying to keep those living in the area safe.
Don’t be that business who reads articles like this and does nothing! Don’t be the business owner or decision-maker who is left wishing they would have done something AFTER the fact.
Talk to us! Really, what are you waiting for? Call us at (415) 543-1033 or email us at [email protected].