How to recover faster from a disaster

Halloween is upon us, which means we're surrounded by all sorts of horrors: ghosts, goblins, bad Lady Gaga costumes and bottomless bowls of diet-wrecking candy.

But if the latest news stories are any indication, wicked weather is one of our bigger threats these days. We turn on the national news and witness vivid coverage of tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, severe storms, fires and other disasters wreaking havoc on homes, businesses and communities. And as we watch the destruction, we think, “Thank goodness it’s not me, my family or my workplace.”

As a responsible employer, however, you need to realize this simple truth: Disaster can strike any time. And the difference between lengthy down time and a quick recovery lies with proper emergency planning.

To ensure you’re never caught off guard in a crisis and can respond promptly, a basic plan should include:

• Emergency contact numbers. Keep a current database of employee and emergency service phone numbers in a safe place with easy access. Cell phones, with their separate networks, are good communication devices in emergencies.

• Detailed employee communication plans. How will top management deliver information to employees after a catastrophic event? It’s a smart idea to prerecord information on toll-free hotlines. And don’t forget the Internet as a way to connect with employees after a disaster.

• A list of critical tasks. Identify and distribute critical business operations (what keeps your company producing, selling, taking orders or providing services) to supervisors and employees. Also, think about limited or restricted work schedules, telecommuting arrangements and company transportation services for employees.

• An off-site meeting place. Designate an off-site location for top management and “essential” staff to meet in case your building is inaccessible.

• Customer communication plans. How will you communicate with customers on the status of their orders and deliver information to business clients?

• Data recovery plans. Natural and man-made disasters can easily wipe out hard drives and destroy databases. Keep critical back-up data at an outside location and have a plan on how to retrieve that information if disaster strikes.

• Employee health and safety. Health and safety become top priorities if you decide to keep your business open during and/or after a disaster. Refine your emergency response procedures and stock up on the appropriate first aid supplies.

Put your plan to the test ...

Once your disaster plan is in place, practice it and then practice it again. Train employees and supervisors on emergency procedures and what to do if they have limited or no access to the building.

Test your plan with emergency dry-runs and document the results. Look for ways to improve and update your plan wherever necessary. Schedule semi-annual meetings of emergency response teams to keep everyone in the loop and up to date.

The amount of lost time and productivity after a major disaster will ultimately come down to your preparations and training. With effective communication and employee cooperation, your business can keep recovery time to a minimum and your business standing after a crisis.

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