Ready for Anything
Business survival lies in your pre-disaster efforts.
- By Stephanie Williams
- Apr 01, 2010
On the morning of Feb. 7, 2008, employees
of a Georgia-based sugar refinery probably
began their day like any other. The manufacturing
plant was producing granulated
sugar, and business was on as usual. However, the day at
this refinery changed when explosions shook the plant
after accumulated sugar dust ignited from an overheated
bearing. Within minutes, employees were faced with a
disaster that claimed the lives of 14 co-workers, injured
36 others, and destroyed several buildings in the process.
Are you prepared for the worst situation your company
Being prepared for an unexpected disaster requires
planning well in advance in order to manage any emergency
situation. Whether it is a natural, weather-related,
man-made, or technological disaster, the key to survival
lies in your pre-disaster efforts. Taking the time to assess
the company's functions, develop plans to keep the
business operating, detail strategies to lead recovery, and
conduct employee training can make the difference between
survival or closure for a business.
First, it is important to understand what kinds of
emergencies might affect the company, both internally
and externally. Researching the types of natural
disasters that are most common in the area where the
company operates and analyzing processes that could
put the company and employees at risk will direct you
toward the safety and precautionary measures that
need to be taken in a disaster.
Next, carefully examine various functions of the
company to determine which employees, materials,
procedures, and equipment are absolutely necessary
to keep the business operating in an emergency.
When conducting an assessment:
- Review your business process flow chart.
- Identify operations critical to survival and recovery.
- Find out how and where documentation is stored,
such as backup copies of tax, accounting, payroll, production,
and customer records.
- Review existing plans if arrangements are made to
operate the business in a temporary location or if the
company is ready for a utility disruption.
- Review the company's insurance coverage to understand
what is and is not covered.
- Establish procedures for succession of management.
Include at least one person who is not at the company
headquarters, if applicable.
Finally, identify your suppliers, shippers, resources,
and other businesses the company utilizes on a daily
basis. During the assessment, you should:
- Determine whether or not qualified backup sources
have been established to meet your company's needs.
A disaster that shuts down a key supplier can be devastating
to your business.
- Review the contact list for existing critical business
contractors and others you plan to use in an emergency.
Identify where this list and other important documents
- Find out whether a list of the most important customers
has been developed to enable the company to
continue service during and after a disaster.
A company's employees are its most important and
valuable assets, followed quickly by the physical property
and business operations. Taking steps to protect
these assets is critical to a successful recovery. There
are three plans that should be developed to protect
employees and the business in the event of disaster —
emergency action plan, crisis communication plan,
and business continuity plan.
Emergency Action Plan
Emergency action plans are developed to provide
guidelines on actions employees must take when an
emergency occurs. According to OSHA, the minimal
elements that must be in an emergency action plan
- Evacuation procedures and exit route assignments
- Procedures to be followed by employees who remain
to operate critical plant operations before they
- A procedure to account for employees after emergency
evacuation has been completed
- Rescue and medical duties for those employees who
are to perform them
- Procedures for reporting fires, hazardous chemical
spills, and other emergencies
- Names or regular job titles of persons or departments
who can be contacted for further information
or explanation of duties under the plan
Involve employees from all levels in emergency
planning. Use newsletters, intranets, staff meetings,
and other internal communications tools to communicate emergency plans and procedures
before an incident. Also, conduct mock
drills to help employees understand how to
evacuate safely and include how often they
will be conducted in your written plan.
Crisis Communication Plan
Regular communication with employees
before, during, and after an incident is
critical. A proactive approach would include
details regarding how your organization
will communicate with
employees, local authorities,
customers, the public, and
others during and after an
Employees: Be prepared to
provide employees with information
on when, if, and how
to report to work following an emergency.
- Set up procedures to communicate with
employees in an emergency, such as a call
tree, password-protected page on the company
Web site, an e-mail alert, or a call-in
- Be clear on how their jobs may be affected.
Management: Provide top company
executives with all relevant information
needed for the protection of employees,
customers, vendors, and nearby facilities
on a regular basis.
Public: It may be important to update
the general public with calm assurance
that all resources are being used to protect
workers and the community. Communicating
a recovery plan may be especially
Customers: Update your customers on
whether and when products will be received
and services will be provided.
Government: Tell officials what the
company is prepared to do to help in the
recovery effort and communicate with
local, state, and federal authorities what
emergency assistance is needed to continue
essential business activity.
Other businesses/immediate neighbors:
Be prepared to give competing and
neighboring companies a prompt briefing
on the nature of the emergency so they may
be able to assess their own threat levels.
Business Continuity Plan
As with any good business plan, a continuity
plan should provide a blueprint for how
a company will protect its employees and
its critical business functions during and
after a disaster. Developing a strategy that will minimize downtime and get business operations up and running
as quickly as possible can be the deciding factor in the survival
of an organization.
When writing a business continuity plan, address the following:
Employee needs. Think about how the company can meet the
immediate needs of employees so that they can return to work as
soon as possible. This includes basics, such as how payroll will be
handled. Also, think of a way to operate efficiently with a smaller
staff of key individuals.
Goods and services. Think about suppliers and where they
are located, as well as the procedures they have in place to handle
emergencies. Develop professional relationships with more than
one company in case a primary contractor cannot fulfill supply
Phone numbers. Think about how you will contact suppliers,
employees, customers, utility companies, business partners, and
emergency agencies, not to mention the company's insurance company
and the local media. Make a list of current phone numbers
and keep it, along with other important documents, on file in an
emergency supply kit and at an off-site location.
Business functions. Think about where the company could
relocate, if necessary. Determine where backup copies of records
could be stored. The Small Business Administration recommends
that an off-site location be at least 100 miles away. Important documents
should be saved in fireproof safe deposit boxes. Other functions
to think about include how the company will handle payroll,
accounts payable and receivables, regulatory compliance, and insurance
Equipment and supplies. Think about the equipment, vehicles,
and office supplies that are necessary for business operations. Consider
whether or not these items can be leased or rented while the
damaged equipment is being replaced or repaired.
In the wake of a disaster, a company should be prepared to lead its
recovery efforts. This involves stabilizing operations after the immediate
impacts of the event and implementing a coordinated and sequenced
process of recovery activities. However, recovery programs
and operations should be adaptable to meet unmet and evolving
Training is a key element in the success of a company's disaster
recovery and business continuity efforts. Providing employees
with complete information on the plans that are in place to protect
them and the business in an emergency will provide comfort and
an understanding of the role they play in an emergency situation. It
is a good idea to meet with employees at least once a year to review
emergency plans and to share information on disaster preparedness.
It is also a good idea to go beyond planning and frequently practice
what you intend to do during a disaster. Drills and exercises will help
the company be prepared.
There is no guarantee a disaster will not strike your company, so
taking the necessary steps to prepare for the worst situation your
company may face is a wise investment.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.