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No one knows when or how an emergency will happen. This is why it is crucial to have a proper emergency plan to cater to your workplace, customers, and employees, to ensure continuous operation during such times.
Research in 2010 indicated that 7% of businesses have no plans to help them stay afloat in the case of a disaster, while only 14% had plans that will keep them running for up to a year. Preparing correctly for an emergency is essential to the success of any business.
An emergency plan necessarily entails comprehensive post-situation preparation, response strategies to combat problems, and recovery strategies to assess damages and mitigation procedures to keep the damages at the lowest level possible. Disasters do not have to be large scale before they can be devastating – an ordinary large-scale power outage, a burst pipe, or fire can hinder the smooth running of a business. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent most of these internal emergencies.
Most businesses cannot afford to take a break. According to statistics, 90% of businesses will collapse within a year if it stops running for over five days. However, with an emergency preparedness plan in place, both the infrastructure and the employees are safe, and damages kept at the minimum.
In this article, we will discuss, at length, all you need to know about an emergency preparedness plan and how to put one in place.
Businesses are prone to disasters.
The region or location of your business and type of business determines the kind of disasters your business will be prone to. That said, here are potential emergencies that tend to affect all businesses:
- Medical emergencies, flu pandemics, cyber-attacks, and terrorist acts;
- Large scale power outages or equipment failure;
- Chemical spills and releases, necessitating the adoption of protective gears;
- Flooding, earthquakes, and other local disasters;
- Severe weather conditions – tornadoes, hurricanes, and extreme temperature; and
- Explosions and fires
What should you do before creating your business disaster preparedness plan?
Take the following steps before you go on to put together an adequate plan for possible emergencies in your area.
Start by reviewing the history of your area – this simply means getting familiar with the type of emergencies that have been previously recorded in your area. If it helps, enlist the help of the relevant authorities for this.
Assess your location and building. How well can your building or facility withstand potential damage? Is the facility a safe distance from hazards like nuclear power plants, hazardous materials, dams, flood plains, or seismic faults? Your answers to these questions will provide a clearer picture of what needs to be done.
What damages is your business most prone to? You need to know what will most likely throw your businesses into the biggest mess. Can you survive a large-scale, extended power outage? Would operations seize if major equipment fails to work?
Know how much your insurance can cover. You need proper insurance coverage for your business. It is the only way to save yourself from impending disasters. Consider liability and property insurance. Before settling for insurance, assess the coverage, deductibles, and other essential factors. If you have one already, keep it updated and fix coverage gaps (if any). Flood insurance will come handy for businesses situated in flood zones. Get a suitable policy to cover your data and computer equipment. Business interruption insurance will come handy in case of disasters to keep the business running. Lastly, consider these as essential and do it before the disaster happens.
Create an up-to-date inventory of your business assets. From purchase prices to serial number, model, and make, ensure that you document every relevant information about your business assets. Photos will also come handy in documenting pre-disaster conditions of the equipment. These kinds of information can help you to claim more damages post-disaster by providing accurate information to insurers for loss determination.
Who should be included in your Emergency Plan Cover?
Although the emergency plan cover is for your business, it must address the needs of your employees, clients, customers, suppliers, and vendors.
To enlist your employees in this plan, you will need to assess the communication infrastructure, the chain of command, and sick-day and leave policies. Your employee database should be updated and contain relevant information.
You also need to update the database of your clients and customers, including their contact numbers, in preparation for a break in service.
The same is required for suppliers and vendors. You should also create plans for a break in the product distribution chain, as well as disaster preparedness strategies the vendors can use. This is saving your business from the ripple effects of a potential disaster to your vendors and suppliers.
What should your business disaster preparedness plan include?
The content or structure of a disaster preparedness plan for businesses is essentially the same. However, based on personal preferences, there may be a few tweaks here and there. The basic components are listed below:
- A warning system that can pass vital information during the emergency. This will help you to inform your employees about an unusual situation. In most cases, a public address system will work fine, or an alert siren.
- A designated chain of command. Proper leadership is crucial in any business and even more crucial in emergencies. Designate key individuals and assign emergency roles to them based on their skills. If you run a large business, you may need to enlist the services of a reputable emergency management organization for proper evaluation.
- A proper exit plan, including exit maps and directives on how to exit the building during an emergency. The map should show clear utility and emergency routes, such as emergency exit stairways, restricted areas, and fire escapes. It should also mark essential emergency equipment like fire hydrants, utility shutoffs, utility valves, fire extinguishers, and hazardous materials.
- Adequate communication plan is crucial to get in touch with the employees, their families, and the media, both during and after emergencies. This should not be the same as your typical communication systems – they tend to fail during emergencies.
- Provisions for special needs – You must make adequate provisions for people with medical conditions or disabilities. Start by identifying employees or workers who fall into this category and engage them on how best to help.
- Resources like a central emergency number will ensure employees can check in during emergencies. It is ideal to have department members check in with their supervisors, who in turn, reports to the higher authorities. These higher authorities must report to one central office.
- Meeting points – This is where your employees will meet after evacuation for shelter from the elements. The assigned evacuation coordinators will keep track of the evacuated employees, visitors, and customers with the aid of a checklist or roaster.
- Equipment and supplies for emergencies. What are the essential supplies required to manage emergencies in your facility effectively? Who can you call for immediate repairs? Make these findings and keep these items and contacts close before the crisis.
- First-aid procedures are necessary to manage internal medical emergencies. Let your employees know where to find and how to use medical supplies for primary medical care. It is safe to have at least one medically-trained personnel in each department.
- Emergency drills will practically prepare your employees on what to do during an emergency. This will ensure that no one is stranded when the D-day comes.
Now that you are familiar with the essential components of a business disaster preparedness plan, let’s discuss how you can create a business continuity plan.
How do you create a business continuity plan?
First off, it is important to note that the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) or the business continuity plan is crucial to ensuring adequate preparedness for emergencies. It is designed to keep the business running in situations of disaster and emergency until the business recovers.
You can create a COOP by following the steps below:
- Set up an emergency management team that comprises every employee and manager with technical skills. Assign responsibilities explicitly to the best hands, as well as suitable backups.
- Set the activation procedures for the COOP. If your business runs in multiple locations, determine the ideal activation process for each.
- Determine the most important business functions and train your staff on how to execute them.
- Make arrangements with your vendors and suppliers to keep your essential daily operations running during the difficult times.
- Identify an emergency business location, where you can continue with your business operations if the current facility is unusable. In some cases, working from home may be the best. If not, get a ‘safe house’ that you can temporarily use until the original facility is restored. What records, equipment, or supplies do you need to run the business and pay staff? Identify and keep them close. You may stock up spare parts in advance to make repairs faster.
- Draw protective plans for vital equipment. You should do all you can to protect your crucial equipment – telephones, computers, and others – from attacks and failure. Surge protectors and uninterruptible power systems are good ways to start. If you deal with computers, consider installing firewalls and software, and keep the system protection updated.
- Create an electronic backup system to protect vital business records or safe transmission of these items and records to a safe offsite location. Cloud storage comes handy in this case, but you may integrate physical storage locations to complement the online systems. Records like bank statements, employee contracts, insurance policies, accounting records, financial reports, tax returns, asset records, corporate meeting records, and site maps fall into this category. Regular backups are necessary and must be stored at secure offsite locations.
- Create and keep your customers, and vendors list updated. This will help you to notify the right people in the invent of interruptions easily.
What next after a Plan?
Having a plan is not enough; you must also put effort into execution. The following steps will help you in this regard:
- Organize adequate training for employees. This will ensure that everyone knows what to expect and how to respond appropriately to such occurrences. If necessary, enlist the help of community organizations for proper preparedness training. This way, you can be sure that your employees know their roles during emergencies and evacuation procedures.
- Practice the plans consistently to ensure perfection. Do not wait until the crisis before activating your plans for the first time. Regular evacuation drills and COOP activation, medical emergency responses, and shelter-in-place procedures will position your employees properly for action during emergencies.
There is no doing too much when it comes to protecting your employees and business against disasters. Here are some other things to put in place.
- Set up a planning committee or first aid team, which will, in turn, create an effective emergency plan.
- Prepare disaster preparedness equipment and other necessary safety equipment required for emergency preparedness. If you are not sure of what to pick, here is the list of the top 10 emergency preparedness items.
- Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs)
- Smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- First aid kits
- Portable battery-powered radios
- Emergency foods and water
- Dust masks and work gloves
- Shelter-in-place supplies, e.g., sanitation supplies, blankets
- Hook-and-loop fasteners to hold bookcases, computers, and other valuable items in place
- Safety latches to secure cabinets
- Prepare emergency backup power and lighting that runs on a portable battery. This should be enough to power the equipment for a while in the event of loss of power. Portable light towers will also help to meet some lighting needs.
- Install a commercial backup generator running on propane, natural gas, gasoline, or diesel. This will keep the business running in the event of a short power outage. However, refueling may be necessary if the outage lasts longer.
- Take precautions against fire by installing fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and automatic sprinkler systems. You should also invite professionals to conduct a proper inspection for fire safety.
In all of these, proper installation and operation are crucial to avoid fires and injuries. Avoid DIY in situations like these. Instead, hire a licensed and reputable electrician to handle the installation, and perhaps, a regular maintenance schedule.
You must also ensure that you acquire only the right models of these tools, in line with your business needs. For instance, you will get more out of a permanent generator than a portable version. The former works directly with the units via a transfer switch, which also puts the utility lines back online when power is restored. The only advantage of a portable version is its mobility – you can use it at different locations.
How do you ensure that your employees are well prepared?
It is crucial to make sure that your employers are always ready to respond properly during emergencies. Getting the personal preparedness of employees right includes putting them through regular emergency preparedness training. Most employees cannot offer basic first aid, talk more of CPR/AED. This can be detrimental to your preparation for an emergency.
Likewise, encourage employees to use alternative exit and entry routes into the facility. They should also have their emergency preparedness kits close at all times while updating their emergency contact information regularly.
Finally, bodies like the Red Cross, Government Emergency Management Agencies, and others can offer updated information on emergency plans, which can help shape your efforts.
Article by caterpillar spares parts suppliers KEP Services in the North East UK.
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