Emergency Preparedness for Business

Is your company prepared for an emergency? Most are not. Emergencies can happen at any time. A fire could destroy your office, a snowstorm or flood can knock out power to an entire region for days or even months at a time, the president of the company could be killed in a car accident. What would happen to your business if you walked into the office tomorrow morning and discovered that someone had broken in and stolen all of your computers? Or if you are a small business owner and you had a heart attack this afternoon, would someone in your office be able to handle your customers and clients in your absence or would your customers have to go elsewhere? Every company needs an emergency plan and it needs to be communicated to everyone in the company and reviewed on a regular basis.

Every corporate emergency plan should address issues of data backup and redundancy, communication strategies, emergency procedures, and decision-making authority during and after an emergency situation.

For data backup and redundancy, every IT person in the world will tell you that your computer files should be backed up on a regular, consistent basis. The most secure backups are administered and stored offsite. This is often a more expensive solution than just backing up your data locally, but if your company is dependent on its data, then it’s worth the cost. Also, have you ever noticed which companies or organizations always have back-up generators? Schools usually do, but banks do not. When there’s a power outage at the bank, they shut the doors.

Communication with employees and corporate officers during and after an emergency is an area that should be given significant thought. The telephone tree method many school districts use to notify their teachers that school is canceled due to snow or other issues can be used by any size organization, it just takes some coordination.

The telephone tree works like this: the decision-maker calls 3 to 5 key personnel and announces the decision. In the instance of the school, it is usually the principal calling the school secretary, the assistant principal and the facilities manager. Each of those people is then responsible for calling a list of employees. For instance, the school secretary may call the cafeteria supervisor, the latchkey supervisor, and selected radio and TV stations, while the assistant principal calls a lead teacher in each grade, while the facilities manager calls a lead bus driver, the janitor, and the police officer assigned to the school. The cafeteria supervisor is then responsible for letting everyone scheduled to work at the cafeteria not to go to work, each lead teacher is responsible for letting each teacher in their grade know that school is canceled. Each teacher is then responsible for letting the aides in their classrooms know, etc. An entire organization of 500 employees can be notified very quickly when compared to just having the school secretary call every single employee.

But most companies don’t take the time or effort to set up a telephone tree, though it is very effective. Each employee has to be provided with telephone numbers and a list of who to call and someone has to make sure those lists are kept up-to-date. Schools do it because they know emergencies will occur. Business owners tend to think that emergencies will not happen to them.

Emergency procedures for your employees should be spelled out in your employee handbook. They should know who to call to report incidents that occur at the office, when they are permitted to discuss situations with a reporter, when they are allowed to leave the premises, and other procedures.

And finally, who can make what sorts of decisions in an emergency should be discussed within your company. Simple things like making sure the secretary knows how to access your calendar and the contact information for people you are meeting with so she can cancel or reschedule on your behalf should an emergency arise can make an enormous difference in how well your business weathers an emergency. Your corporate bylaws should state that a quorum of directors is not necessary to make decisions for your business if your governor has declared a state of emergency, or if there is a serious accident involving more than one director.

Planning in advance for an emergency that may never come is better than reacting to an emergency once it arises. Spend just a few minutes thinking of that improbable “what if” and you’ll be helping your business come through any emergency situation intact.

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