Just like every family should have an emergency plan and stock of emergency supplies for when unexpected disaster events hit, all small businesses should have an emergency plan for various scenarios when the business isn’t fully operable.
First determine what events are likely to happen in your area. Flooding, hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, or earthquake, might be likely natural disasters based on geography. Even something seemingly minor, such as heavy rains or icy roads, might trigger your emergency response plan if management deems it unsafe for employees to travel. What is your proximity to nuclear power plants or other facilities that handle hazardous waste? What about a pandemic flu, or an outbreak of sickness in your office? At what point would you close the office and trigger your emergency response plan? What if there were an active shooter or terrorist attack unfolding nearby? Or an incident with the building, such as a fire or pipes bursting that cause flooding? Not only where the office is located, but where do the majority of employees live? Could they be affected by a disaster and unable to get to work even if the office building might be safe?
Each scenario could have different responses. It’s a good idea to have a plan for a full office closure and for partial office closures. Consider these questions when creating your emergency response plan:
Is evacuation from the facility or office is required?
- What is the route, and where is the destination? How will employees travel there?
If it is an impending weather event and there is time to prepare the office or facility for closure, what can be done to prevent potential damage?
- It is imperative that your company’s data is backed up to multiple locations. Are you a small agency that typically uses only a few computers? Back up all customer and company information to a cloud based storage system or multiple hard drives that can be kept in a safe place.
- Is there art and heavy signage on the walls that could fall?
- Where are important documents kept and should they be moved to a safer place, or even removed from the building?
- Should the power to the building be shut off? Should appliances and network equipment be unplugged?
- Can you board up or tape the windows?
If the office will be closed or inaccessible for an extended period of time, where will employees work?
- You might have another office within a couple hours away where a skeleton crew could keep essential functions running.
- Who is the skeleton crew? Determine one or more people from each department that can act as the skeleton crew.
- Make a plan with a local hotel, conference center or other rentable space to use as an alternative office space until there is a long-term plan, or until the office is able to reopen.
- Can employees work from home or remotely?
Consider the response and communication plan for employees, vendors and customers.
Plan for employees
- How will employees be notified if the office is closed, or if an evacuation is underway? Do employees have access to their work email while not at the office? Text alerts are easy to set up for a company. Who will initiate and send a text alert or email?
- Are employee roles clearly defined in the event of an emergency or disaster?
- What is the leave policy? Will employees be required to take Paid Time Off if they are unable to come to the office? What is the payroll procedure?
- Who is able to work from home and who is expected to work?
- What’s the chain of command and communication infrastructure for receiving updates?
- Is cross-training of essential functions necessary? What if certain employees are unable to perform essential tasks?
- Will communication be different for each department?
- If there is a city-wide evacuation, where will each of your employees travel too? Keep a record of where each employee says they can take refuge, along with an emergency contact person and number that can be reached.
Plan for vendors and customers
- What’s your plan for business continuity?
- Will you send out an email to customers if business is shut down? It’s a good idea to have pre-drafted email templates for various scenarios so minimal edits will have to be made at the time of emergency sending.
- What if product distribution is interrupted?
- How will you print checks and pay vendors?
While many types of businesses can just close up shop and wait for a storm to blow over, this isn’t true for an insurance agency. Panicked customers might need answers immediately if they’ve been affected by a storm and will have to file an insurance claim with you. Make sure to have a way for customers to reach you, and assign back-up staff so one single person doesn’t have the responsibility for taking calls, receiving claims, and answering questions. Have multiple numbers available to call in the event that one or more is inoperable. Send out an emergency email with exact details for who to contact and display the information prominently on your website.
Sharing the emergency plan with all employees prior to emergency situations is key to ensuring its success. Everyone will know what to expect and what is expected of them if a disaster occurs. Review the emergency response plan yearly to make sure it is updated based on current operations. Employees change, org charts change, and the building can even change based on remodeling or renovations, which might affect the response plan.