Running a successful business takes strategic planning, insight, and forecasting. These business skills are particularly helpful when dealing with disasters and emergencies.
Disaster and emergency planning (emergency preparedness) are policies and actions implemented by a business to prevent disasters, mitigate their effect on business, and assist in rebuilding afterward.
While businesses may have emergency plans in place for common disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires, few had the acumen to plan for a pandemic—and even fewer could have anticipated the scale of COVID-19.
Even if you didn’t have the foresight to plan for the coronavirus, it doesn’t preclude you from developing or modifying your emergency plan to better handle similar situations in the future.
If you’re in the process of creating or updating your emergency plan, consider these 6 tips.
1. Develop Plans for Multiple Situations
As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, it’s nearly impossible to predict every possible scenario. Even the businesses that had pandemic plans in place likely didn’t expect it to be as severe as COVID-19.
Just because you can’t anticipate every disaster doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Disaster preparedness is designed to cover as many emergencies as possible. When considering which disasters to include in your emergency plan, start with the ones you’re most likely to face.
For example, look at the various natural disasters that hit your area and create emergency plans for those first. Emergency preparedness should cover any situation that could cause your business to cease operating as usual—like an office fire, robbery, broken equipment, or extended power outage.
The more situations that you include in your emergency plan, the better prepared you and your employees will be when an emergency strikes. Instead of uncertainty and chaos, you can all follow the carefully thought-out playbook for handling that disaster. Not only will this assurance give your business more stability, but it will create a safer environment for everyone.
2. Consider All Aspects of Your Business
Your emergency plans need to be thorough—otherwise, you will be scrambling to tie up loose ends and create processes in the middle of the emergency. Understand how every aspect of the business will be affected and take steps to handle it.
- Customers: How can you reach all of your customers quickly? Can you be proactive during an emergency to prevent losing clients? (It helps to prepare templated messages for social media, email, text, etc., and then fill in the details when the time comes.)
- Employees: How will you manage employees during the emergency? How will you make decisions and communicate them to your staff? We’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic that many businesses didn’t have a plan for handling unexpected layoffs, store closings, and furloughs tactfully—don’t make this same mistake moving forward.
- Vendors: Your vendors also need to know how to react in an emergency. If you decide to close your restaurant, your food supplier won’t know automatically. If you have recurring expenses from vendors, make sure you have a plan in place to handle these relationships during a disaster.
- Products: Which products or supplies are perishable and need to be given away or thrown out in an emergency? How will these supplies get stored safely and who will store them? Your products and inventory are paramount to your business, so don’t neglect planning for them during emergencies.
There are several components of your business, and even the small details need to be considered when developing your emergency preparedness plan. A simple plan for holding or rerouting incoming mail can have a huge effect on your business during a disaster.
3. Create an Emergency ‘Black Book’
A “Black Book” is everything someone needs to know about your business. If you or the other managers in your organization pass away or are unable to access the business for an extended period, this blueprint can guide someone through operating your company.
It contains information like passwords, how to access bank accounts, vendor contact details, and any other relevant (and secure) information that someone would need to run your business.
People often create black books in their personal lives for the executors of the will. When they pass away, this person can have the account information they need to take over and close the estate.
Similarly, as a business owner, you need to determine who would take this responsibility if an emergency prevented you from controlling your company. Maybe it’s a business partner or trusted employee, or maybe it’s an outside advisor. Whoever you choose, make sure he or she has a clear blueprint for keeping your business afloat during an emergency.
4. Cross-Train Employees so They Can Help in Multiple Ways
Cross-training employees is a great idea, regardless of whether you’re planning for an emergency. Training staff in different departments and tasks helps fill knowledge and skill gaps, which will make your business more successful—especially during a disaster.
For example, if you need to make unwanted cutbacks, having team members who can handle multiple areas and jobs can keep your business operating in a limited capacity through the emergency. While you’ll be on a smaller scale, you won’t have to close your business completely.
Cross-training can also help your company when there isn’t an impending emergency. It will make your business more efficient if an employee is sick or on vacation while improving onboarding and hiring.
5. Backup Your Files and Important Documents
During an emergency, you don’t have time to collect important documents and make sure they are accessible. Review your documents every year (and ask your employees to do the same) to see what is most important. Examples include insurance policies, financial records, and vendor agreements.
These documents should be scanned and uploaded to a secure location that can be accessed in an emergency. Avoid saving them on a desktop. Instead, look into cloud-based services where you can access the documents from any device.
6. Update Your Emergency Plan
Set aside time each year to review your emergency plans, update your black book, and train employees on necessary disaster preparedness. Set periodic reminders for you and your staff to review these plans—especially leading up to riskier times of the year like hurricane season.
Some years, you may only need to make small changes to employee contact information and customer communication materials. In other years, you may need to make significant updates.
If your emergency plan isn’t up-to-date, you risk losing its effectiveness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that no amount of preparation can cover every emergency. During the coronavirus, many businesses have scrambled to make emergency plans and develop new policies on the fly.
Instead, businesses should work on being more proactive through a carefully designed disaster and emergency plan. As you begin preparing your business for whatever the future holds, consider the 6 ideas above.