Like many small-to-mid sized businesses, your passion, knowledge and tenacity is what drives your company and your company’s results. You have spent your entire career building your reputation, your competency and your specific product or service offering. But what happens to your employees, your customers and your life’s work if something were to happen to you and/or your leadership team?
Ten years ago, when the Twin Towers were attacked, many affected businesses realized they were ill prepared for the catastrophic loss of company leaders, top performers and critical employees. In the months that followed, countless businesses began assembling emergency preparedness plans. In a recent poll conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management, roughly half of those who responded reported that they have updated their emergency preparedness plans since 9/11. What is surprising is that this number is not closer to 100%.
Emergencies happen all across the country. It does not take a terrorist attack to decimate a business. Depending on the size of your business, hurricanes, tornados, fires, floods, plane crashes, or even car accidents could cause just as much damage to your business as any terrorist attack. The time to put a plan in place is now, not after the unthinkable occurs.
So where do you start in planning for a catastrophic event? Before you can start to rebuild, you need to be able to successfully manage your way through the crisis. Start by designating a “process guardian” chain-of-command to ensure someone is in charge during the emergency. These individuals should be responsible for training employees on how to respond to disasters, ensuring emergency drills are conducted routinely, keeping phone lists up to date and ensuring an emergency preparedness kit is readily accessible at a moment’s notice.
This chain-of-command should also be responsible for establishing the steps you will take to recover your business in the aftermath of a loss. If the crisis involves the loss of the driving force behind the business, a plan needs to be established as to what steps will be taken to ensure the ongoing operations of the business. If you are a small business, don’t count on a spouse or child to immediately step into the role of business leader. The grieving process may not allow these individuals to make rational decisions. Depending on your business, they may not have the background to run your company in your absence.
As the crisis is winding down, reach out to your people. Having a paper roster with phone numbers and other contact information will make it much more efficient to get in touch with all of your people. If the crisis involves a natural disaster, phone service is often disrupted and computer servers may be destroyed as well. Having a system in place to effectively account for your people will allow you to respond to their needs timely and with effectively. Consider using social media, voice-over-IP service or other non-traditional communication tools to augment your plan in case phone lines are down. Think back to all those fire drills you did in grade school. They weren’t just to ensure everyone got out, they were also to ensure everyone could be accounted for after the issue passed.
Once you have accounted for your people and managed the initial crisis, have a plan on how you will get your business up and running again. Consider moving your operations to a secondary location away from the affected zone. You will also need to plan on how to push communication out to your people – some options include hotlines, email, websites, social media and text messaging. Also consider grief and anxiety counseling for those who survive a catastrophic event. Taking care of your people will ensure they begin their recovery process quickly. The survivors of any catastrophe may experience survivor’s guilt and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Be proactive. Planning for these issues in advance will ensure your organization will not perish in an emergency. With the proper planning, training and execution, your business can rise like a Phoenix from any catastrophic event.