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What’s Your Business Plan For Natural Disasters And Other Emergencies?

Events like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan provide riveting images of a prosperous nation and everyday lives turned completely upside down, forever changed within minutes.

Media reports indicate that Japan was considered to be prepared more than any other country in terms of earthquake and nuclear disaster preparedness. Yet Mother Nature told Japan and the world otherwise.  Japan is a stark reality as to why being prepared for natural disaster emergencies in your business is so vital.  As witnessed with the Japan catastrophe, no one is ever fully ready for a calamity of such force.  But the better prepared you and your management team are, the better the chances of your company’s survival in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency.

As the CEO, president or business owner, ask yourself: What is the company’s business plan for natural disasters and other emergencies?

The last thing you need, whether in good business times or challenging business times, is to have something totally unexpected happen such as an emergency or natural disaster and have no business plan in place.  Ready to respond and put into action immediately.

But let’s define emergency.

The word “emergency” conjures up all sorts of images for business people.  A lost or late shipment, deadlines not being met, or simply not being able to get someone on the phone when you need an immediate answer.

As a smart CEO, president or business owner, you already know how to deal with business situations like these to keep your company running smoothly.  But are you prepared for other types of emergencies, such as natural disasters: fires, floods, droughts, high winds, rain storms and blizzards as well as those once-in-a-lifetime events such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes?

Can your company operate at full or even limited capacity when the kind of services that are taken for granted in our everyday business lives are lost causing immediate business upheaval, such as:  loss of electricity, clean running water, telephone or internet service?  Or even the unthinkable, a government issued state of emergency due to an act of terrorism, something we all have to unfortunately be realistic about in these times we live in.

Your business world can change in a second with just the blink of an eye.  The question is, are you and your company prepared for the numerous business emergencies natural disasters can bring? If so, which ones?  Have you thought through as many scenarios as possible that could happen?  And do you have a business plan in place for each?

For example, airline pilots are trained extensively on flight simulators.  So if they lose an engine, the landing gear won’t work properly or a host of other problems they could potentially encounter, they know exactly what to do rather than have to think about the solution.  Remember the USAirways plane landing on the Hudson River and the miracle of everyone surviving?  Airline pilots know what to expect in case of an emergency because they are trained and prepared for it.  Do you know what to expect in a natural disaster emergency and how to deal with it?  Will your business survive an natural disaster emergency?

Generally speaking most business leaders are reactive to emergency situations rather than being proactive and planning in advance for the worst “what if” scenarios. It’s somewhat human nature to have a “this can’t happen to me attitude” because it is all so unthinkable.  But it can happen to you and your business.  Just look at Japan or any other countless events – the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or Hurricane Andrew in Miami or the blizzards in the winter of 2010.  Even a major summer heatwave where there are rolling brownouts. Such a reactive approach can be costly to your business which is why you want to have a well thought out and coordinated proactive plan in place now while time is on your side and you have the ability to really think it all through.

Here are nine business strategies to consider as part of your business plan for natural disaster emergencies:

1) Know What You Have

Take inventory of what you have.  Make a list of what it takes to run your business from office supplies to furniture to computers and everything else that is appropriate to your business.  Have a phone number/email list of utilities, vendors, outsourced services and any emergency numbers you may need like your insurance company.  Maintain a current project list with delivery dates.  Take photographs for insurance purposes.  Keep an accurate list of what it costs to actually run your business.  You may need this for insurance claims, bank loans or just to give you an idea of what it will cost to keep the business going till normal business resumes.  Keep these lists in multiple safe places, including outside of your business, so they can be easily retrieved.  All of your important business papers should be copied.  Store these copied papers at another location and/or keep them in a fireproof filing cabinet. Consider too once you have inventoried everything how your business may be able to operate if any of the key components were missing.  What would you do?

2) Save Your Data

Doesn’t matter if your business has just one computer or a network of computers, do you back up your important data daily, not just on-site, but also off-site to a secure location away from your company address?  There are many data storage companies and services that offer a variety of different options for you to explore that fit your needs and your budget.  The key is not just to back up to a device in your office or you carry in your briefcase but also to a resource outside of your office.

3) Take Care of Your Employees

Have a detailed, up-to-date list of employees with home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and alternative contact information.  Develop a detailed human resource plan.  In the event of the unexpected, your first concern is that of your employees.  Let them know you care about them and their well-being.  Have contingency plans to distribute payroll.  Set up policies and procedures to keep employees informed.  Have support systems, such as counselors, in place just in case employees may need them.  Again, keep this information stored on-site and off-site to make it fully accessible.

4) Take Care of Your Customers 

Just as you maintain an up-to-date employee contact list, do the same with your customers.  If the unthinkable happens, you or other key employees can contact your customers by phone or by email, whichever may be most appropriate.  Keep your customers aware of the situation.  Emergency situations can have a domino effect, so your circumstances can affect your customers too.  Do everything you can for your customers so that they will continue to be your customers once the emergency is over and you are back to normal business operations.

5) Your Business Address

What would you do if your business couldn’t open for a week or even months because you didn’t have an office, a building or a warehouse?  How would your business survive?  Consider your options if damage to your office, building or warehouse is extensive and deemed inoperable.  What is your back up plan?    Talk to your insurance agent.  Are you fully protected with your current policy?  Do you have enough insurance protection?  If you lease an office or a building, know what your lease agreement says in the event of an emergency so that you know who is responsible for what.  If something in your lease is unclear, get it clarified and if necessary, in writing now not later when it’s too late.  Determine what the costs would be to relocate or even to temporarily suspend your business.  Seek out multiple opinions so that you can make the most informed and best decisions regarding all your business options in case of an emergency.

6) Make a List and Check it Twice

Communication is critical in times of emergency.  Sit down with your key personnel to discuss what plans, policies and procedures should be in place.  Determine what type of emergencies potentially could affect your business.  Determine appropriate responses to each.  Be creative.  Think the unthinkable.  Be prepared.  Make a list of what you may need.  For example:  Should your business have its own backup generator to produce electric power?  What do you do if you don’t have telephone service?  What if there was no Internet? Is there an alternative method to produce products?  Could you still conduct business?  Once you put your plans in place review them on a once or even twice yearly basis just so you are always ready for if and when a true emergency strikes your business.

7) Two Business Plans

Every business should have two plans:

  • First, a strategic business plan to attain everyday goals.
  • Second, an emergency business plan to keep the company moving forward when faced with potential disasters.

Even with both plans in place, there will still be issues and situations that you just didn’t think of or could ever imagine happening.  Still with having both plans in place, you will be more prepared and be able to work through everything in a more intelligent, confident and responsive manner.

8) Practice, Just in Case…

Businesses today practice fire drills and first aid with employees just in case anything does happen everyone will know what to do and what their role is.  Your company needs to do the same on whatever scale you determine is appropriate.  This is not to scare employees but simply to be prepared.

9) Other Emergencies

Theft or vandalism can be equally as damaging to your business as any force of nature. You leave your business at the end of a productive work day only to get a phone call in the middle of the night alerting you to intruders at your business or to discover the crime for yourself upon entering your business the next day when you open the door.  Many of the business strategies discussed previously in this article apply here as well.  You can never be too prepared for if and when the unthinkable happens.

With plans in place, you may now be ready for business emergencies. May you never have to put any emergency plans into action and instead just have to deal with all the day-to-day business issues that come your way.

To all the people in Japan and to those who have family and friends in Japan or conduct business in Japan, our hearts and prayers are with you at this time as we continue to witness how this unequalled national disaster of our time unfolds and evolves.


What other business strategies do you have in place at your company in the event of a natural disaster or other unthinkable emergency? 

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