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Create an emergency plan – BEFORE you need one

We encourage all businesses to proactively create an emergency response plan for employees to follow during a weather-related emergency like a hurricane – or any unexpected emergency. How will you communicate with employees during a hurricane event or other natural disaster? Which employees will be expected to check on the work site after a storm or fire? What kind of options are available for employees that need to get payroll and other necessary tasks accomplished? How will hazardous chemicals be handled during a weather-related emergency? These and many more questions should be answered BEFORE an emergency situation strikes.

Check out this list of things to think about when developing an emergency plan:

Identify potential dangers

Is your area prone to tornados? Are wildfires a threat? Is your business likely to be affected by hurricane threats? Identify which natural disasters are most common in your area and determine your business’s risk factor. Start by preparing for the emergencies that have the highest odds of impacting your business, and work your way down from there.

Use free tools available to help with preparedness

Business owners can get free storm preparedness information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross. For example, the American Red Cross’ Ready Rating program offers free online disaster preparedness planning. Some chapters also provide free CPR and first aid training for small businesses.

A business impact analysis helps you predict the potential impact that a disaster could have on your business, including lost or delayed sales and income, increased expenses due to repair work, and delayed implementation of business plans. According to Ready.gov, a national emergency preparedness campaign, completing a BIA helps identify potential problems with your existing disaster preparedness plan, such as customer communication, inventory management or record keeping safeguards. Completing a BIA could help you to create and refine your emergency response, crisis communications and business continuity plans. Click here for more information on what a business impact analysis is and how to conduct one.

OSHA offers tools and resources to help businesses craft an emergency plan. Specifically, the Hurricane Preparedness and Response page outlines the warnings and watches used for hurricanes, including the five categories used to rate the strength of a hurricane. The page also contains information on creating evacuation plans and supply kits.

Given the recent busy hurricane season, OSHA is heavily promoting its  Response/Recovery page features a link to OSHA’s Hurricane eMatrix, including information on hazard exposures and risk assessments for hurricane response and recovery work. The information is organized based on types of activities performed to make it easier for workers to identify the precautions they should take.

Employers are required to protect workers from the anticipated hazards associated with the response and recovery operations. OSHA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have mounted a public education effort aimed at improving how people prepare for and respond to severe weather. This page is designed to help businesses and their workers prepare for hurricanes, and to provide information about hazards workers may face.

The Preparedness page tells how to prepare evacuation plans, emergency supply kits, and flood watches and warnings. This can help make sure that people are ready to evacuate in an orderly manner before rising waters impact your business or residence, or your evacuation routes.

The Response/Recovery page also provides useful details on the hazards to avoid when flooding has occurred. This includes areas to avoid when using a vehicle, and safety and health hazards such as downed electrical lines, mold and wild animals.

Create and practice your emergency response plan – USE VISUAL CUES

Now it’s time to sit down and do the nitty-gritty work of thinking through all the possible scenarios of an emergency and how your company will address the threats – on a business level and an employee safety level. The plan should include how you will protect employees and customers, manage business operations and communicate during and after the disaster. Practice this plan and think through various scenarios. How easy is it to exit your office building on foot? How long does it take to reach the designated meeting place? Who will help customers or employees who need mobility assistance?

Making sure you have visual cues to direct employees in an emergency situation should be a key facet in your plan. If the power goes out, does your facility have glow-in-the-dark floor markings to guide employees to exits? Is your point of assembly  clearly marked?  Are all exit doors and exit paths clearly marked? Are first aid kit locations clearly marked? Having several run-throughs of your emergency plans is helpful to think out all the potential details and address informational voids.

Create an emergency communication plan

This is the plan that you will follow when communicating with employees and customers.  Your crisis communication plan will help your business respond promptly and accurately during and after the disaster. Determine in advance who will be your spokesperson; a single, unified voice may help protect your business’s reputation with customers.

Protect your data and records

If your office or store were destroyed tomorrow, what would happen to your business’s financial data? What about customer records or other sensitive company information? An internal and external data backup site can help protect your company records. Remind employees that any data stored on a computer hard drive, rather than a company server, can be lost.

Have a business continuity plan

How will your business continue to operate in the event of a natural disaster? For example, if your business sells goods or services online, orders may continue to come in – even if your actual storefront is closed. A continuity plan includes how to manage communication with customers and suppliers, how to fulfill order or service contracts, and how to recover lost company data.

Every business is different and there is no ONE emergency plan that will work for everyone. The most important feature of an emergency plan is the planning and development of the plan BEFORE an emergency happens.

A company or business that is serious about its safety culture and continuous improvement plan, should develop a solid emergency preparedness plan and make sure its ready to roll out when needed. No one can predict where and when a weather –related emergency will strike with total accuracy. But we can control our response to an emergency. Make sure your business and valuable employees are ready and protected when the next emergency strikes.

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