Profit Minded

6 Steps For Small Business Emergency Planning

Small businesses are often more vulnerable than large in the event of a disaster or unforeseen emergency. This is because many small business owners don't invest the time in planning for the unexpected. When disaster strikes, they're caught off-guard and faced with the challenge of putting the pieces back together during a time of extreme stress and chaos. Planning for the unexpected emergency is a smart business strategy.

An emergency can be one of many things: a building fire (just watch the news), a natural disaster (think hurricane Katrina), a terrorist attack (think 9/11) or an armed intruder (think Columbine). Each of these scenarios is very different, but a recovery plan stems from the same basic planning process.

Most emergencies happen without much warning, which makes planning imperative. Think about running your operation without a facility, computer network, phone system or key personnel. When there's an emergency, it's critical to have a plan that can quickly be put into action.

1. Identify a Planning Team
Gather a group of employees with different roles in the company and consequently varying perspectives to help think through all of the logistical challenges that come with running a business operation in a temporary location. This team should include those people who understand the computer network, the phone system, the product inventory, customer expectations and facility requirements.

2. Conduct a Risk Assessment
Use the team to brainstorm different catastrophes and discuss how the organization can best respond to these events. A flood or fire requires a very different response from one dealing with an armed intruder. Include all possible events and think through the various "what if" situations. This kind of brainstorming helps to identify those things that should be considered. For example, what if there were a fire in the computer room, and it destroyed the computer network? How would the business function? Or, what if an armed intruder entered the building? How should employees respond?

3. Plan for the Unexpected
Plan for the unexpected as identified in the risk assessment and start the conversation by answering the following questions:
•    Who needs to be contacted about the emergency?
•    Who do we call first, second, third, etc.?
•    Who will oversee the different phases of the recovery?
•    Where will the emergency response team gather during the recovery period?
•    How will we get the computer system up and running?
•    What is the best way to communicate with our customers?
•    How do we continue servicing customers?
•    How do we access insurance policy documents?
•    Who will speak to the media?

•    Who do we call if we need counseling for employees?

4. Create an Emergency Management Document
Take everything the team has thought up and create a document that's easily accessed from any location. Place the document in a cloud computing environment so it's available for quick access. The document should be organized and include all necessary information needed for an emergency response.

5. Train Employees

After a plan is in place, train employees about the specifics of the plan and hold a disaster drill to test what they learned. The goal is to teach employees to think on their feet in a crisis. After the drill modify the plan to reflect lessons learned. It's amazing what you can learn by simply walking through this process with employees. Conduct a drill at least annually to keep the plan fresh and employees ready to respond.

6. Update the Emergency Plan Annually
Schedule time to review the plan at least annually. This will allow you to update information and modify the plan as business conditions change. This is also a great opportunity to retrain employees on the plan.

Emergencies and disasters are unpredictable at best, but taking the time to plan for the unexpected can minimize the chaos and can help turn a stressful situation into a relatively smooth response process. Ready.gov and FEMA are both great resources that can help your team prepare for that unexpected emergency.

Patricia Lotich (twitter: @patricialotich) is a small business coach and founder of The Thriving Small Business.

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