There’s 2 feet of water in the lobby of your office; what do you do? A small portion of your factory burned down last night, but the rest was not damaged. Can you reopen today? A demonstration is happening in the street outside your property. Are your employees safe?
Each of these scenarios is possible for any business in Louisiana, and as a business owner you should prepare how you would address these or other emergency situations. You should develop an emergency action plan now, before you need it.
Why is this such a big deal? Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency says about 40 percent of small to medium-sized businesses never resume operations after a disaster.
To find out how to improve those odds, we spoke to Arnold Mascali, the president of Procor Solutions + Consulting, a risk-management consultancy in New Jersey, about how to develop an emergency plan that can help protect your business and help you recover.
Mascali says the first step is simply to commit to creating a plan. ”Preparing is not wasted time or money. It’s not as hard as it sounds,” he says. He recommends starting with a visit to FEMA’s website, which has sample disaster plans to help you get started. Mascali also recommends you find local consultants who are familiar with the types of disasters common in your area.
The most important aspect of all emergency preparedness is the safety and wellbeing of people, but next on the list is definitely insurance. Make sure to coordinate with a broker or an agent as you develop your plan. You don’t want to find out the hard way that you didn’t have as much coverage as you thought. “Once the business is down and the income stream stops, that’s what puts companies at risk,” Mascali says.
Next, think through the logistics. Collect emergency contact information for your employees, your vendors and your clients. You should also have contact numbers for local emergency personnel: police, sheriff and the fire department.
Consider where your business would operate from if one of your key locations is out of commission — for the next day and even the next six months, Mascali says. Could you rent office space quickly or do you need to set up something specialized in advance? If your business is specialized, you should look into an emergency response partner — another facility (for example, if you make bread, an offsite bakery that you can rent) or a restoration service that can come in and clean up as quickly as possible, he says.
Also, before an emergency happens, assign roles for individuals at your company. A designated person should declare the emergency and initiate the emergency plan. Someone else should get lists of employees and be prepared to do headcounts at the evacuation spot. Someone should be ready to speak to the emergency personnel and the media. “Make sure to have backups for these roles,” Mascali says. Share the plan during onboarding and in safety meetings so that everyone knows what to do when the time comes.
As soon as disaster strikes, the plan needs to be in action. Execute it as you developed it — initiate the plan, get everyone to safety and get a headcount. Mascali says to always take care of your employees’ immediate safety first — and their families and homes, if it’s an overnight disaster or a disaster with widespread damage.
Choose your meetup spots wisely. “When 9/11 happened, most people in the first tower had emergency meetup spots and data backups located offsite — in the second tower. No one imagined an impact zone that large at the time,” he says. Ensure your meeting places are well outside of the impact zone — and always consider having offsite data backups in other regions.
Communications will probably be easier than you think. People are hungry for information and updates during disasters. “During 9/11 it was very hard to communicate to people exactly what was happening. Cell service has been revamped since then and you should have an easier time of communicating,” Mascali says. Texting and email can be helpful, but this means you’ll need that phone or email list you made earlier.
When a disaster happens, notify everyone and record who responds, Mascali says. If someone doesn’t respond, keep trying. Tell employees ahead of time that if they don’t respond within a set timeframe, you will reach out in another way or send emergency personnel.
After a disaster happens, Mascali recommends that you assign only one person to speak to the media — a person who knows how to handle this role and who knows what to say. It’s crucial for the company to speak with one voice. In the immediate aftermath it’s tempting to issue statements of reassurance: “We’re fine. Everyone’s safe. It’s business as usual.” But if this is on the news and you later file an insurance claim for income lost during your down time, the insurance can point to it as evidence they don’t owe you anything, Mascali says.
It’s better to have a polished media contact state that you’re doing everything you can to keep everyone safe and then speak more only when they know more, he says.
After the immediate threat is over, begin planning your recovery and work with your insurers to get any funds you need to restore your business, Mascali says. It may be slow going, but if you prepared well, you should recover just fine.