Mother Nature seems to have a nasty temper. Almost daily, we turn on the national news and witness tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, severe storms and other disasters wreaking havoc on homes, businesses and communities. (Just this week, the East Coast was rattled by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake and is now keeping a close eye on a potential Category 3 Hurricane Irene.) And while it’s disheartening to watch, the harsh reality is this: Disaster -- whether natural or manmade -- can strike any time, and almost anywhere.
For employers dealing with these types of threats, the difference between lengthy down time and a quick recovery lies with proper planning. To ensure you’re never caught off guard in a crisis, you need an emergency preparedness and response plan that includes:
• Emergency contact list. Keep an updated list of employee phone numbers (cell phones and landlines) and 24-hour emergency contact numbers in a secure, easily accessible location. Distribute the emergency contact list, in advance, to all employees via email or as a printed document.
• Employee communication procedures. How will management deliver information and instructions to employees after a catastrophic event? It’s a good idea to pre-record emergency messages on toll-free hotlines. And don’t forget email - accessible via laptops and smartphones -- as a way to connect with employees and customers post-disaster. (Subscribe to a resilient, high-speed Internet service, such as satellite broadband, to maintain communications should your terrestrial network fail.)
• A list of critical tasks. Identify critical business operations (what keeps your company producing, selling, taking orders or providing services) and discuss those functions with affected supervisors and employees. At the same time, consider limited or restricted work schedules, telecommuting arrangements and company transportation services for employees.
• An alternate meeting place. Designate an offsite location for top management and essential staff to gather in case your building is damaged or inaccessible due to roadblocks. Depending on the size of your business and your resources, this location can serve as an emergency command center and help minimize down time in a disaster.
• Customer communication strategy. Obviously, you need to keep in touch with customers, buyers and distributors. Again, a resilient, high-speed Internet service can be vital for delivering business updates and maintaining customer relations when other communications are crippled. During quieter times, you might want to draft a few sample emails explaining what customers can expect and apologizing for any inconvenience. Having this correspondence ready to go at a moment’s notice can be a huge help.
• Data recovery plans. Weather disasters can easily wipe out hard drives and destroy databases. Keep essential backup data at an offsite location safe from flooding and know how to retrieve that information if disaster strikes.
• Employee health and safety measures. Keeping your staff out of harm’s way is a top priority in any disaster. Review your emergency evacuation and response procedures, stock up on the appropriate first aid supplies and, if you experienced damage and are resuming “normal” operations, assess the safety of all work areas before allowing employees to return.