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Disaster Preparedness: Steps for Preparing Your Business for the Worst

It’s often impossible to be prepared for every little thing that could possibly happen. However, it’s better to be as prepared as possible rather than be caught off guard when disaster strikes. Businesses and their employees can face a variety of unexpected disasters, or hazards: natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes; health hazards such as widespread and serious illnesses; human-caused hazards such as accidents and acts of violence; and technology-related disasters such as major power outages and equipment failures. Why is it important to take steps to prepare your business for unexpected disasters? Studies show that 40% of small businesses close permanently after a disaster occurs, and of those that reopen, 25% will close permanently again within a year.[1]

The first thing you can do is develop a disaster preparedness plan. These disaster-specific plans will focus on step-by-step instructions to managing the business before, during and after hazards and disastrous events, such as hurricanes. We have compiled a three-step outline to follow that can be used for a variety of unexpected hazards.

Step 1: Identify the Risks
Start by determining what the highest risk for your business, including all locations. If you have offices or employees that operate in state prone to wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc., the business owner should also consider the location of company computer servers (primary and back-up) are located and even where goods are stored when identifying these risks. Once you’ve identified the major risks, you can begin developing a comprehensive plan to prepare your business in the event one or more disasters occur.

Step 2: Develop a Disaster Preparedness Plan
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides toolkits that your business can use to prepare your business for specific disasters. In general, a disaster plan has three main goals: keep employees safe, secure dangerous objects or chemicals, and keep your business running. Keeping these goals in mind, the plan needs to include the following elements:

  • An evacuation policy, which should include maps and routes.
  • A designated contact person for employees for additional information on what to do.
  • A dedicated individual who is required to stay on-site to perform essential functions, or shut down important items.
  • Information on who is responsible for the rescue and medical duties and contact information for each.
  • Special instructions regarding hazardous materials and equipment if needed.

You’ll want to make sure your plan also addresses any special circumstances specific to your employees and their working environment. For example, if there is an irreplaceable piece of equipment or information that will require extra care or protection, this should be outlined in your disaster plan.[1]

Step 3: Implement and Train
The final step is to implement your disaster plan and ensure all employees are trained on it. Having a written plan in place is only impactful if employees know it exists, know how to access, and understand their responsibilities. Employees should be fully aware of any evacuation routes and maps should be posted in a common, conspicuous location. One or two employees should be designated as an Evacuation Warden, meaning it is their responsibility to make sure everyone gets out of the building safely. Employees should participate in trial runs to make sure everyone knows how to evacuate when necessary.

There should also be pre-approved and drafted emergency communications for not only employees, but also customers and additional stakeholders. This will allow you to communicate quickly with all appropriate parties in the event of a disaster. Employees should be well versed in who to contact in the event of an emergency and where to access this information.[1]

Preparing for an unprecedented disaster may not sound like something your business needs to worry about. However, anything can happen and it’s better to have a plan in place than wait until disaster strikes. Harbor America’s team of safety and risk management specialists are available to help you prepare your disaster preparedness plan. Your safety specialist will help you determine the most likely risks, put the right plan in place, and help make sure your employees know what to do. Contact Harbor America to learn more.

[1] From COVID-19 to Hurricane Season: Disaster Preparedness for Small Business


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