Disaster Planning

Originally published
Originally published: 4/1/2008

Having a business continuity plan in place is a must for contractors.

Last month Mother Nature decided to dump two feet of snow on the Cleveland area. Many businesses closed due to a shortage of workers, supplies, and a crippled transportation infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, those in the hvacr industry don’t have the luxury of simply closing their doors. In fact, weather like this dictates that they work around the clock to ensure customers’ needs are met. 

I spoke with Paul Dooney, project manager of Cleveland-based Bay Furnace, and he told me that they worked non-stop to meet customer demand. They also worked equally as hard to dig their trucks out of the snow several times during the blizzard. Equipping technicians with blizzard gear (shovels and snow blowers make it easier for technicians to get where they are going and provide a valueadded service to customers) is part of a plan to mitigate risk, but what else can be done to ensure your company can seamlessly work when faced with disaster? 

Don’t think disaster can happen to you? While an act of God (hurricane, blizzard or earthquake) might not be an issue, broken water pipes, fire and theft could leave you very vulnerable. 

Indeed, water and fire damage to computers and servers could wipe out years of data in an instant. And what about losing a key employee that is essentially the heartbeat of the business? How will you retrieve all of that intellectual data? 

The best answer: Prepare for the worst. 

The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has a free tool — Open for Business — to help small- and medium- sized businesses plan for disaster. (You can download the Open for Business package at business_protection.)

IBHS, a non-profit initiative of the insurance industry, developed Open for Business specifically for small and mid-sized businesses because, “The threat of a disaster-related closure is especially great for these businesses because they usually lack the financial resources for recovery, ability to spread their risk across several geographic locations, ready access to alternative suppliers and other advantages most large organizations possess.” 

The IBHS also notes that each year floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires force thousands of businesses to close. And common events, such as building fires, cause the same results. Of those businesses that close, 25% stay closed because they can’t recover from the disaster. 

To better your odds of business survival, you must devise a disaster plan. 

The IBHS disaster planning tool features a self assessment test to gauge how well prepared businesses are for disruption caused by natural or human- caused disaster. Questions include: “Could you communicate with your employees if a disaster happened during work hours or after hours? Are your vital records protected from the harm that could be caused by a disaster? Can your building withstand the impact of a natural disaster, and are your contents and inventory sufficiently protected so they will not be damaged? If you answer no to these questions, the IBHS suggests you get started immediately creating a business- continuity plan. 

The Open for Business package focuses on three categories of protection to help you survive disaster: human resources, physical resources, and business operation. 

The package also includes 13 key forms to be completed by the business owner or someone in charge of the planning. The information on these forms will help a company recover essential business functions and inform employees about their responsibilities.

The forms include: Employees Form so that each person can be contacted 24 hours a day; Suppliers/ Vendors Form so that you have their information at your fingertips, and also alternate vendor choices in case they are unable to supply your business; Business Functions Form, which identifies what business functions are critical to your survival and details about each function; Recovery\ Location Form, which will provide information on where you will conduct business operations following a disaster; Vital Records Form, which will identify records that are vital to perform your critical business functions;\ and Equipment/Machinery/ Vehicles Form, which notes what equipment and machinery is required to keep your business operational — list anything that plugs in, as well as tools and spare parts. 

The package also includes a property protection checklist designed to help you identify items that have a direct bearing on the safety of your building and how to protect your building and its contents from damage. 

The checklist covers earthquake risk assessment (a simple building design is more stable); hurricane and tornado risk assessment (a roof in good condition and proper choice of shingles are the best defenses); flood risk assessment (knowing the base flood elevation or design flood elevation is critical); and wildfire risk assessment (are you in a climate with a dry season more than three months?) 

The mere task of filling out these forms and evaluating your risks will force you to put in place plans that will lead your business through disaster. 

You may not be able to stop Mother Nature or man-made disasters, but you can certainly mitigate the losses.

Traci Purdum is a former editor of HVACR Business.

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