Natural disasters are a fact of life within the business community, and the best run company can be devastated by a single climactic event. At the same time, the infrequency of these emergencies and a lack of familiarity with disaster preparation can leave many agencies without a cohesive plan in place for minimizing loss, maintaining operations, and restoring a sense of normalcy. Fortunately, companies are not alone in managing these hazards; while creating a program from scratch may be a daunting task, there are easy, accessible resources that provide a pre-existing framework for plug-and-play disaster management.
This guide will focus on two primary tools in disaster preparation; the FEMA Ready Plan for Business (along with the National Preparedness Community), and the Red Cross Ready Rating program. Both tools are provided online at no cost, and are complementary in the planning structure they provide. To access the Red Cross interactive assessment and individualized templates, registration is required, and a free account may be created here.
Know Your Hazards
The first step in disaster management is understanding vulnerability. The physical location of a business is key in determining its risk, and in projecting the level of time and resources that should be allocated to risk mitigation. This requires identifying and quantifying the risk associated with each possible event by accounting for both its likelihood of occurrence, and the severity of the impact the disaster is likely to have. Conducting a Hazard Vulnerability Assessment both provides this understanding and helps in prioritizing resources in planning. Once primary hazards have been identified, a Risk Assessment Table may be used to provide a more tailored evaluation of the impact a disaster is likely to have on company operations.
Assess Your Business
Knowing where a business stands and its areas most in need of revision is vital to emergency planning. The Red Cross Ready Rating uses a 71 question assessment tool to establish a current level of preparedness and identify key areas of improvement in business awareness, planning, and implementation. The tool also provides businesses new to disaster planning with an outline of how to walk through the preparation process, and what to expect for the company once the process is complete. The tool is divided into five sections:
• Commitment to the program
• The hazard vulnerability assessment
• Emergency response planning
• Community outreach and assistance
A sample of the assessment questions is available here, and the full quiz is available once a user is logged in.
Create Your Plan
Once hazards have been identified, it’s time to plan, identify backup systems, and protect company resources. For most businesses, crafting these procedures is a new experience, but through the use of comprehensive planning tools, company time spent on the process can be efficient and structured, resulting in an end product that’s genuinely useful.
As part of the Ready Rating Program, the Red Cross Emergency Response Planner offers a step-by-step, fill in the blank template for start-to-finish disaster planning. The planner includes a pre-existing framework and policy provisions that may be edited, removed, and supplemented to meet business needs. The structure includes:
• General information, such as executive authorization, evacuation plans, alternative worksites, IT and medical emergency procedures
• Chain of command during emergency scenarios, and designated levels of response
• Communications – Media relations policy that designates a point of contact, central phone number, and press release guidelines
• Supplies on hand in the event of a disaster
• Emergency contact and guidance information targeted to the disasters most likely to occur in the business’ location
Once the template has been completed, the site automatically generates a customized PDF manual that’s ready to be used as go-to policy in case of emergency. The structure and information are saved on the Red Cross website for easy modification and future updates.
In addition to maintaining a well-defined protocol to facilitate the best response to a disaster, creating a system to maintain operations can help in budgeting, projection, and risk adjustment. One important tool in this process is the Business Continuity Planning Suite, offered by FEMA. This excellent resource includes guided forms, video training, and exercises to test the structure of the plan in the case of an emergency. The complementary overview of cost estimates includes a list of important resources that may become part of a continuity plan, sorted by items or services that are free, under $500, and over $500.
Your Plan in Action
Once planning has been completed, training employees on the protocols and running practice drills helps to make implementing emergency procedures more automatic and less intimidating should a disaster occur. A sample of possible exercises and instructions on creating customized walkthroughs may be found here. Disaster planning is an ongoing process, and reevaluating a response plan on a yearly basis keeps procedures up to date, and allows for the gradual incorporation of new resources into program. Additional planning tools are available on the FEMA Library Business Resource page, and a general guide to protecting one’s business is available on their website. Local first responder departments are also an excellent resource for disaster planning, and many departments can provide local hazard assessments and other materials that will further help in evaluating risk. By combining these tools, any business can be disaster ready, resilient, and prepared.