Especially, nowadays, it seems we can’t go long in our country without having some sort of natural disaster striking somewhere. It doesn't if you don’t have earthquakes like California, hurricanes like Florida and the Gulf Coast, tornadoes like the Deep South and Midwest, blizzards like the Northeast and Rockies; you need to have a plan in place so you know what decisions you as a business owner will have to make when such an event happens without little or no warning. You want to be able to spend those first few days following the aftermath, dealing with the situation instead of determining how to move forward.
A disaster plan focuses on preventing and reducing the likelihood of such an experience having catastrophic effect on your business by identifying threats and taking the necessary preventive action.
Assembling a Team to Set Up the Plan
You should have a group in place that is responsible for personnel, buildings, public relations and IT as well as someone with general management responsibility. In some cases, an external advisor may be imperative to assist your business. Out of this group, you should have a team leader as well as someone in senior management that will commit fully to the disaster plan.
Make sure that the needs of the staff and other stakeholders are included into the plan. Identify and prioritize the activities that are necessary to the flow of your business' continuing. You must consult your staff throughout the process to help establish a sense of ownership and commitment.
Analyze the Risks that Affect Your Business
Before you formulate a disaster plan, identify specific vulnerable aspects of your industry, operation, services as well as potential internal and external risks to your company. You want to evaluate and analyze these and act to eliminate or reduce them. Set apart areas that need immediate actions (the repair of ceiling and broken windows) and those that can be dealt with later. List which tasks are required, and consider appointing a loss adjuster in advance so that the insurance claim process can start immediately in the even that a disaster happens.
Be sure to speak with the proper personnel regarding specific matters with your business – insurance coverage, building and equipment maintenance, security, safety and fire precautions; and storage systems
DRAFTING UP A COURSE OF ACTION
Remember that the disaster plan should be easy and simple to understand. It should contain all the pertinent information required.
This has to be created with the worst case scenario, but at the same time, flexible enough to be utilized in more moderate situations. See copies of how other businesses draft up their plans and learn. Be prepared to take a year or longer to recover from a disaster completely.
There are several areas that the plan needs to address:
- Alternative Premises;
- Continuity of Operations;
- Physical Communications;
- Equipment and Resources.
You will have to address key personnel in this section. This includes: out of hours contact information, responsibilities and limits of authority as well as the location of the DP team’s control center.
It’s imperative that your every employee’s telephone number, home and email addresses is in the hands of the managers; in the event that one of which has to be contacted after hours. You want to be able to offer counseling and other assistance to deal with the aftermath. Be sure to communicate with staff repeatedly about progress, moving back into the building, safety and other related topics. Remind the staff whom to contact with any problems, issues or situations. Lastly, you will want to make alternative arrangements for paying your staff, if the usual procedures are out of action.
See that you investigate a reciprocal arrangement for sharing space with other organizations.
Continuity of Operations
Your business needs to be operational as soon as possible following the disaster – preferably, the following day. You need to inform both customers and suppliers how to contact you. Regarding the former, your customers will go to another competitor if you are unavailable to them for a long period of time. Taking the steps to show that you are available is imperative.
Regarding both your telephone system and incoming mail; you will want to contact your phone company about forwarding calls, plan for ad hoc telephone directory and instruct your receptionist what to say to incoming callers. You also need to determine whether to have the U.S.P.S. hold your mail or forward it to another location.
Equipment and Resources
Another aspect of importance to cover is identifying critical documents and their location so that all vital materials can be retrieved from damaged buildings. Store backups of important materials, including IT information to an outside location. Keep cash available at all time, and never go out on a whim and purchase new equipment immediately. Rental is a better option for the short term. You will also want to consider establishing a resource network as well as identify cooperative partners with whom equipment, storage and costs might be shared.
Covering Other Areas
Additionally, the disaster plan must include prioritized functions and activities, floor plans, evacuation procedures, precautionary measures, sources and locations of further information, procedures for jobs to be done during the recovery period; and a directory of suppliers of emergency equipment and supplies.
Be sure to cover every aspect of your business, don’t leave any stone unturned. Once you’ve drafted a plan, remember to keep copies in a number of locations for both convenience and safety.
TRIAL RUN AND IMPLENTATION
Testing Out Your Plan
This will reveal anything that you’ve overlooked and indicate whether the plan is practicable. You will find out how long it takes to set up the control center, see if the communication systems work and if alternative premises are suitable, for example. Find out what problems that you encountered.
Putting the Plan into Effect
A member of your DP team must give a presentation to all employees in your business to ensure that everyone is aware of and understands the plan in place, what its objectives are and know what to do in the case of an emergency. For new staff members, implement the plan into their orientation. You will want to rehearse emergency drills and reaction procedures at least once a year, reminding existing staff of the procedures in place.
Fine Tune the Plan
One last thing to remember is that the plan is not set in stone; you will make changes to it as you go along. There will be events that take place within your business that will force you to revise your plan. Additionally, you should test out individual components, and see what new developments occur that will make you reassess. Always communicate any changes to your staff.