Emergency disaster plan: Every business that wants to stay in business needs one
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, up to 25 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors following a disaster. Having an emergency preparedness and response plan for severe weather and other emergencies can improve the chances that your people will be safe and your business will survive.
Your plan should spell out best practices to be taken before, during and after an emergency, with actions that address the specific risks to your location and business. For example, is your business located near a flood or hurricane zone? If crews work offsite, do you have a communications plan for contacting them in an emergency? Are wildfires common in your area? If you had to move equipment and valuable business records, do you have a backup location?
While many storms and other disasters have some early warning, creating and sharing a plan with your employees will ensure that everyone knows what to do, even in sudden emergencies.
Put safety first.
Encourage safety by outlining basic responses in emergency situations. If necessary, assign each task to an individual and review annually. A few topics to cover include:
- How to report emergencies. 911, fire alarm, internal emergency number, etc.
- Medical emergency procedures. Does anyone at your buisness know CPR?
- Evacuation procedure. Include floor plans with exit diagrams and plan how to account for all employees after your building is evacuated.
- Shelter-in-place procedures. If you can’t leave the building, identify a safe place to ride out the storm.
- If it's safe send your employees home so they have sufficient time to prepare their families.
- Do not stay if it’s dangerous to do so. While your business is important, it’s not worth risking your life to protect.
Plan for communication.
In an emergency, communication can be difficult if power is lost or cell phone signals are overloaded. Plan ahead by having multiple ways to contact employees, customers and others.
- Assign someone to monitor local news and weather, and share updates.
- Create a printed and electronic list of current telephone numbers and email addresses for employees, local police and fire departments, building owners, vendors and others. Keep a copy off-site.
- Plan a company telephone “call tree” process to contact all employees either by phone or text message.
- Use the company intranet, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and your business website to provide updates on your business operations.
- Place a “closed” notice on your main entrance with instructions on how to find out more information online or by phone.
- Contact local radio and TV stations to broadcast information about closings or reopenings.
- Make a plan for how to contact crews or employees working off-site.
- Keep your customers in the loop. If you anticipate a project will be delayed or you’re unable to complete one, communicate that sooner rather than later.
Protect your investment.
After you ensure employee safety, spend time creating procedures to protect your valuable equipment, building and other business assets. A few tips include:
- Know where your equipment will be safest on your jobsite. If flash floods are common in your area, move it off-site or identify the highest elevation on your jobsite and store equipment there.
- Consider how documents, records and reports (hard copies and electronic copies) will be safeguarded. Store in fire-rated cabinets, relocate to off-site location, etc.
- Disconnect all electrical equipment and unplug from power source, or raise equipment and furniture above expected flood level heights.
- Review your insurance coverage and assure it is adequate for all possible disasters.
- Have a plan for expediting financial decision-making and disaster cost tracking.
- If your alarm system loses power, arrange alternate security.
After a weather emergency or natural disaster, it can be difficult to know where to start. Thinking long term can be overwhelming, so start with immediate needs, including:
- When all safety and operational concerns are addressed, let employees know it’s safe to return to work.
- Take inventory, including photos of all damaged property, and protect the building and equipment from further damage.
- Perform maintenance on any machines you think have been affected. This includes replacing fluids, checking electronic connections for water, repairing damage to the body and cleaning the undercarriage of the machines.
- Work with your dealer and insurance adjuster on necessary repairs and to determine your coverage.
- Decide which projects you’ll be able to resume and when. Check with your customers to see if their jobsite was affected and when you’ll be able to resume work.
- If your business was spared, consider how you can help others in need in your community.
If you wait for a disaster to strike, it will be too late. Make your emergency plan now. There are a variety of resources to help you develop a comprehensive plan for your business, including www.preparemybusiness.org, which includes checklists for dealing with winter weather, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and more.
Sources: Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, U.S Small Business Administration