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Prepare for When Disaster Strikes

Originally published
Originally published: 4/1/2018

The only way to provide any help in your community is to have a solid disaster plan in place


“Failure to plan is planning to fail.” -Sir Winston Churchill

Last year was quite a year for natural disasters and it really showed the lack of disaster planning in our businesses. Even those not directly impacted by the major events in their area suffered unforeseen side effects related to the extreme conditions.

Hurricanes, floods and fires knocked out power grids and communication in a wide area. Traffic problems occurred as people evacuated and returned, and roads were completely closed in some areas. When people are struggling to secure basic needs such as food, water and shelter, what is happening at work tends to take a low spot on the priority list.

But what if you work in an industry people count on to help them restore their lives back to normal? You and your people are going through the same problems, but the community is looking to you for help. The only way you will be able to provide any help is to have a solid disaster plan in place.

Disaster List

To start, list as many potential disasters as you can think of. Fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes are the easy targets, but don’t all happen in all areas of the country. The best plans begin with listing out all of the extreme events that could disrupt business in your particular market. Use any of the big disasters that have historically plagued your area as a starting point.

Then, expand that list to include things that could potentially go wrong. Think about man-made places where something could go wrong and completely disrupt your business — train yards, airports, military bases, mining operations, factories and power plants.

This exercise isn’t meant to scare you or your employees; rather, it’s a good exercise to go through so you can be as prepared as possible.

Now that you have your list of natural disasters and man-made locations, list out any potential problems that might be attached to each one. For example, if a hurricane makes landfall in your city, a list of potential problems might include:

  • Flooding
  • Loss of power
  • No clean drinking water
  • Home evacuations
  • Impassable streets
  • No way to communicate
  • Lack of supplies

It’s important to identify potential problems before we can come up with possible solutions. Check with your local municipalities, as most of them have existing lists like this and plans that the city will put into action.

Knowing what they will do can help you in your efforts. It’s also a good idea as you’re asking your local government for their plans to see if there is anywhere you might be able to help. We’re more vital than we tend to give ourselves credit for, especially during an event where expertise is in short supply.

Remember Your Employees

Now that you’ve come up with a list of things that could possibly disrupt your business, it’s time to start thinking about your employees. Remember, these events will impact all of you and your first priority should be making sure all employees and their families are safely out of harm’s way.

Put together an emergency communication plan. During an event, everyone should call, text or email their status to a single receptacle that can be checked in multiple ways. This might be a phone number with remote forwarding capabilities or a Google Voice number specifically set up for this purpose that can be monitored by anyone with the log in information from any browser, anywhere.

There should be guidelines established for what should be included as well, such as name, status (are you and your family okay), availability (are you able to work), best contact method and anything else you might want to know in a brief message.

Someone should be in charge of collecting and reporting this information to management (this might even be a management function depending on the size of your operation). The point is to make sure everyone is okay and to see who is available to help.

You should assist our own people first. Your customers and your community are very important, but your employees are family and should be treated accordingly. Be sure to include something about taking care of the company family as part of your plan.

Perhaps your shop is listed as a safe place where families can gather. There are a lot of factors that could make that not work, but the general idea is to help your people as much as possible.

Accessible Alternatives

Now that you know everyone is safe and you know who can and can’t work, is the office available? A list on a laptop or a whiteboard of employees and their status is an invaluable planning tool, but it needs to be somewhere accessible.

This might seem obvious, but many companies find themselves forced out of their buildings during a disaster, so part of your plan should include alternative work spaces.

A large home, someone with property away from the stricken area, a business in a neighboring community … wherever it is, the address should be included in your plan. This also helps if communication goes down. Everyone in the organization needs to know where to meet if they’re able.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget access to computers and phones. Most telephone providers should be able to help. If you have a VOIP system, they can assist you in using phones from remote locations as well as in setting up overflow messages if the call volume gets too high.

A working phone and a laptop are an essential part of any plan when the office in inaccessible.

Call Priority

Next, consider what calls you’re willing to run. If your company is facing something big and you only have the capacity to assist with true emergencies, then everyone needs to know that, including your customers.

Have scripting ready to explain your complete situation and the types of calls you will consider.

Here is an example of a script to use during an emergency:

“Due to the current event we are asking all of our regular customers to please understand as we continue to help with emergency calls only. This means any customer without service will be taken care of as soon as possible and all others will be asked to wait until the emergency is no longer a factor in our area.”

Make sure to mention the event in both the script and on voicemail for anyone calling who is not currently experiencing the event you’re going through. We tend to think if we’re experiencing something then everyone else must be too, but that’s not reality.

Scripting will help your clients understanding and will also remove any gray area for your employees. Remember, they’re going through some of the same stressors as well, so a good script will make it easier to deliver a professional presentation.

Here are a few more tips to help with your planning:

  • Get your entire company involved. Have everyone figure out what would help the most for their individual jobs.
  • Some events, such as natural disasters, only strike during certain times of year. Get those events on a calendar and review your plan every year before that season begins.
  • Don’t try to write a different plan for every potential eventuality. Instead, write one good plan that could be applied to almost any event.

Every situation calls for a different plan, but this article should get you thinking. The companies that do the best have a plan in place before disaster strikes.



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