Businesses are subject to a wide range of potential emergencies, including natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods, blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires, and man-made emergencies, like chemical spills, disease outbreaks, radioactive material leaks, explosions, fires, and more. These emergencies can threaten workers, customers, and/or the public, cause physical damage, and disrupt regular business operations. Fortunately, businesses can plan and prepare for many of these emergencies and develop a disaster response plan to minimize the impacts to individuals, facilities, and operations.
What Is the Purpose of a Disaster Plan for Business?
When an emergency strikes, having a business disaster plan in place helps to protect people as well as the business. Whether you’re facing a flood, fire, chemical spill, or another disaster, having clear containment guidelines and emergency evacuation protocols, including clearly marked exits and egress routes, helps ensure that customers and employees respond quickly and get to safety. A business disaster plan also helps protect the business by minimizing legal liabilities, improving security during an emergency, reducing operational downtime, and potentially decreasing facility damage. When you develop and communicate your business’s disaster plan in advance, you can think through all possibilities and develop the best solution, avoiding the need for potentially damaging decision-making under pressure.
Components of Business Disaster Preparedness
The four fundamentals to managing your business through any disaster are mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.
- Mitigation: Prevention is the key to success, so mitigate risks by making your facility as safe as possible with anti-slip tape, reflective tape, and protective bumpers.
- Preparation: Develop an emergency response plan, including communicating and marking evacuation and egress routes with floor signs, tape, and other visual cues.
- Response: In the event of an emergency, put your plan into action and respond to the situation appropriately.
- Recovery: Once the situation has passed, implement your recovery protocols to help minimize downtime and resume business-as-usual as quickly as possible.
By including these four fundamentals in your business disaster preparedness plan, you’ll ensure your organization is well-equipped to handle just about any scenario that might arise.
How to Develop an Emergency Preparedness Plan for Your Business
1. Identify Potential Disasters
Geographic location, business segment, and other factors will impact which potential disasters an individual business is likely to encounter. For instance, a manufacturing plant in Southern California will need to place earthquakes and wildfires toward the top of their potential disaster list; a nuclear energy facility in New York will prioritize blizzards and radioactive material mishandlings; a corporate office building in Texas will need to prepare for hurricanes and floods above all else. Work with your emergency preparedness committee to identify and prioritize potential disasters, including natural disasters and man-made emergencies. Once you have your list, follow the steps below to create a detailed response plan for each, beginning with the most likely emergencies.
2. Develop a Detailed Business Emergency Plan
From protecting employees or evacuating your facility to safeguarding data and records, communicating with customers, and resuming business operations, your business emergency plan should address everything from mitigation to preparedness, execution, and recovery.
Fortunately, many government agencies and public health organizations have put together guides to help businesses develop their emergency plans; some excellent resources to consult include:
- Ready.gov – Common disaster and emergency topics, recommendations to address each, and tools for communicating and implementing your business emergency plan.
- American Red Cross Ready Rating – Information and tools to help businesses prepare for and respond to common emergencies.
- OSHA – A complete list of workplace safety and health topics with guidelines for managing each.
- NOAA – Guides and alerts to prepare for severe weather events, like blizzards and hurricanes.
Any successful business emergency plan will include the following topics:
- Employee & Customer Safety Plan – In the event of a minor emergency, ensure safety equipment, like AEDs, fire extinguishers, and eye wash stations, are clearly marked. If your facility becomes unsafe, how will employees and/or customers evacuate the building and where should they go? Use floor tape, glow-in-the-dark floor markings, and signage to clearly mark routes to the exit or choose pavement markings to label point of assembly.
- Safeguarding Data & 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? Fires, floods, and other disasters can quickly destroy buildings and all of the important data and records stored within them, crippling business operations. Implement an internal and external data backup protocol to help protect your company records, and store physical documents in flood- and fire-proof safes. Remind employees that any data stored on a computer hard drive, rather than a company server, can be lost.
- Creating a Business Continuity Plan – A business continuity plan addresses how your business will continue to operate in the wake of a natural disaster or on-premise emergency. For example, if your business sells goods or services online, orders may continue to come in while your actual storefront is closed due to a hurricane or earthquake. A continuity plan addresses how you will manage communication with customers and suppliers, how to fulfill order or service contracts, and how to recover lost company data.
3. Communicate and Practice Your Business Emergency Response Plan
The best-laid plans are worthless if they are poorly communicated or difficult to implement. By practicing your evacuation, communication, and continuity plans, you can ensure each employee is comfortable with their role and identify any gaps. Making sure you have visual cues to direct employees in an emergency situation should be a key facet in your plan. During each practice run, consider the following:
- 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?
- Who will manage customer communications, website updates, or other elements of the business continuity plan?
Business Emergency Preparation Is An Ongoing Process
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 a disaster 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 it’s ready to roll out when needed.
No one can predict where and when a weather-related emergency, natural disaster, or man-made disaster will strike with total accuracy, but we can control our response to these emergencies. By following the steps above to develop and manage your business emergency plan, you can ensure your business and its employees are ready and protected when the next emergency strikes. Explore our Resource Center for more industrial safety tips.