Prepare Your Small Business for the Unexpected
September is National Preparedness Month, a time when small business owners should take stock of how well prepared they are to deal with natural and man-made disasters. Failure to plan ahead could have serious and long-lasting consequences for your business and your livelihood.
“Businesses can do much to prepare for the impact of the many hazards they face in today’s world including natural hazards like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and widespread serious illness such as the H1N1 flu virus pandemic,” says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on its website Ready.gov. “Human-caused hazards include accidents, acts of violence by people and acts of terrorism. Examples of technology-related hazards are the failure or malfunction of systems, equipment or software.”
The Ready Business section of the site offers an “all hazards approach” to help businesses develop a preparedness program that covers natural disasters as well as fires, blackouts and biological threats.
FEMA’s five steps for developing a preparedness program are:
1. Program Management
Identify regulations that establish minimum requirements, then organize, develop and administer your preparedness program.
Gather information about hazards and assess risks, conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) and examine ways to prevent hazards and reduce risks.
Write a preparedness plan addressing resource management, emergency response, crisis communications, business continuity, information technology, employee assistance, incident management and training.
4. Testing and Exercises
Test and evaluate your plan, define different types of exercises, learn how to conduct exercises and use exercise results to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan
5. Program Improvement
Identify when the preparedness program needs to be reviewed, discover methods to evaluate the preparedness program and utilize the review to make necessary changes and plan improvements.
FEMA also offers Business Continuity Planning Suite, a software program that you can download and use to create, improve or update your small business’s continuity plan.
It’s precisely that type of plan that allowed Sandy Whann, president of the family owned-and-operated Leidenheimer Baking Company in New Orleans, to get his business back on its feet after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. According to his testimonial on the FEMA site, Whann’s business evacuation kit included financial and payroll records, utility contact information, updated phone lists for his customers and employees, back-up files, software and computer hard drives. With all the necessary information packed into a mobile waterproof/fireproof case, Whann was able to carry it with him when he escaped to his company’s satellite office in Baton Rouge. He was able to contact his bank, forward phone lines and receive forwarded mail within two days after the evacuation.
“Katrina was severe enough to teach even us experienced hurricane survivors a few new things about our emergency planning,” says Whann, who has since revised his business emergency plan to reflect his renewed understanding of the importance of being prepared.
The takeaway message here is that emergency preparedness is everyone’s concern. You don’t have to live in an earthquake zone or Tornado Alley, along the Gulf Coast in a snow zone. Chances are wherever you live and conduct business, you will be hit by several natural disasters or other hazards during your lifetime. (If you need proof, check out FEMA’s clever interactive map for a reminder of a past natural disaster in your state.)
As FEMA notes, “Knowing what to do before, during and after an emergency is a critical part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.”