If a tornado, hurricane or flood struck your business today, would you know how to take cover? If a fire started in your building, chemicals spilled or a terrorist attack occurred, do you have an escape route? Would your employees know what to do?
Creating a disaster plan for your business will not only help you and your employees manage an emergency, but it will also allow you to resume normal operations more quickly after an incident occurs.
“You cannot deal with any type of accident or incident without preparation,” says Ed Foulke, former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and former chair of the OSHA Review Commission. Foulke, who now co-chairs the Workplace Safety & Catastrophe Management Practice Group at Fisher & Philips LLP law firm in Atlanta, suggests creating policies for both natural and manmade disasters.
Follow these guidelines from Foulke to create a disaster plan for your small business:
Appoint First Responders
Every policy should designate at least two people to be in charge in the event of a disaster. That’s in case one person is absent or is hurt. They should know any necessary evacuation routes or where to take cover, and they should know procedures for accounting for all employees. “People need to feel like someone is in charge. Those people have to be trained to know how to handle the scenario,” Foulke says.
Create an Investigative Team
All business owners should craft a plan with the assumption that someone is going to get hurt at work—especially from a manmade disaster, such as a chemical spill. So you should designate a team that will investigate injuries and deaths in the workplace. Decide who is going to record a timeline of events, make a report and propose and implement recommendations. “Even if police are doing something, you want to make sure you get the facts right,” Foulke says. “Business owners have to be concerned that employees don’t jump to conclusions.”
Address Employee Concerns
No matter the emergency, you’ll need to address employees’ concerns promptly and efficiently. Create a phone tree to make sure lines of communication stay open. Make a work schedule that outlines procedures for employees who must remain to control critical operations if necessary. And designate counselors you might use to help employees and employees’ families grieve over the loss of an individual.
Back up Vital Records
Having copies of your paper and digital records will allow you to get your business up and running as quickly as possible after a disaster occurs—even if it’s just a temporary satellite operation. Ready.gov advises businesses to back up computer software, insurance policies, lists of inventory and equipment, lists of vendors and contractors, bank account records, site maps and copies of the emergency plan both on and offsite. In the disaster plan, make note of the location of such records and the individuals responsible for them.
Plan for the Media
No one wants to think about this. But if a serious disaster occurs—especially if someone gets killed—reporters may come knocking at your door. Never refuse to comment, Foulke says, because it looks like you don’t have the situation under control. Instead, deliver a carefully worded response. “I find that it’s important that you respond quickly, proactively and have a unified message when dealing with an issue,” he says.
Plan ahead by scripting four to five possible responses for the incidents that are most likely to occur. (Read how to handle the media.)
Of course, these guidelines aren’t exhaustive—there are many precautions you should take when preparing for possible disasters. Once you have a plan in place, don’t forget to train your employees. If an emergency occurs, you’ll have a solid shield in place to protect your business.