Disaster preparedness plans for businesses must take a two-pronged approach. The first involves the safety issues that any preparedness plan would include. The second approach focuses on recovery -- getting back in business as soon as possible.
In 2006, the Small Business Administration reported that up to 25 percent of small businesses do not open after a major disaster like a flood, earthquake or tornado. Many of these businesses were not prepared for either the disaster or the recovery.
Before the disaster
The common hazards and risks to businesses go beyond severe storms, floods, fires and hazardous materials originating both from within and without the building. Power failure, break-ins and thefts, death of a key employee, violence in the workplace, bomb threats and plumbing failure must be considered. Anything that disrupts or threatens the business is a disaster. A lot of disasters don't cause total destruction of the premises, but put the business's future in jeopardy.
Consideration first should be given to employees and any customers in the building. Supplies like flashlights and extra batteries, a battery-powered NOAA radio, non-perishable food and water to last three days, tool kits and first aid kits must be readily available. A disposable camera to record damage before any clean-up will expedite insurance claims
Employees should be encouraged to store a tote bag with three days of medications, personal hygiene items, a space (mylar) blanket, an extra pair of glasses, a pair of sturdy shoes and anything else personally necessary. First aid and CPR training is advised for key employees.
Employees need a wallet card detailing how to get company information in an emergency. All the employees, even those not on site, should be accounted for in an area-wide disaster. An employee with an emergency at home won't be available to help. Landline and cell phone numbers of all the employees and of their spouses will help in locating everyone. Sometimes when phones are down, text messaging is still possible.
A safe place to shelter employees and customers must be available, especially in large warehouse-type buildings, gyms and malls. Plans depend on the type of business. If power is critical, is there a generator? Are shelves and display cases bolted to wall studs? Are provisions made for animal shelters and veterinary hospitals to evacuate animals?
Others who can be helpful in disaster planning are an accountant, attorney, banker and inventory vendors. The American Red Cross and Ellis County Emergency Management also have a lot of essential information.
Recovery from the disaster
The key to recovery is documenting everything. Specifications for all equipment and model numbers as well as key records, directions for equipment use and a complete inventory should be stored in several places. Occasionally a new edition of software won't retrieve information from an earlier version, and no one remembers which version is needed. Any data that is vital should be backed up and available in another location on another server.
Assuring customers and suppliers is an important ingredient for recovery. Most mid-point warehouses only store a three-day supply of whatever is needed. Arrangements with alternate suppliers in other geographical locations should be part of the plan.
For accurate information, one employee acts as a spokesperson for the media and emergency personnel. An employee who staggers out of the building covered in dust and with obvious cuts and bruises may talk about how awful it is in there. On the other hand, the spokesperson will confirm an explosion, for example, that is confined to a certain area. There are injuries, but no fatalities. The business will be able to operate from several of the undamaged rooms within a few days.
Review plans for disaster and recovery with key employees once a year. Key employees may not always be just the department heads. Janitorial staff and dock loaders may also be key, depending on the business.
Having periodic drills is not an option when preparing for disasters. Each person must be able to perform his or her assignment as quickly and efficiently as possible. Do not write a plan and put it on the shelf.
Finally, ask questions of the insurance company. What does the insurance cover -- replacement costs or current value? Is business interruption insurance necessary? What kind of temporary provisions are available? Exactly what kind of information will the insurance company need to process the claim?
Much more information is available online. Many of the sites have helpful links to other sites. General disaster information is found at the following sites:
* Institute for Business and Home Safety at disastersafety.org/business_protection.
* FEMA at fema.gov.
* Small Business Administration at sba.gov.
* American Red Cross at www.redcross.org.
* Public Entity Risk Institute at riskinstitute.org.
Business continuity planning Web sites are:
* Association of Contingency Planners at acp-international.com.
* Disaster Recovery Institute International at drii.org.
*The Business Continuity Institute at thebci.org.
*Contingency Planning & Management at contingency planning.com.
* Disaster Resource Guide at disaster-resource.com.
* The Ready Store catalogue and its Web site, TheReadyStore.com, has a number of preparedness items to order if a business wants to go that direction, from water filters and micro fiber masks to scrambled eggs and bacon MREs and 72-hour personal kits. Although some of the items are expensive, the photos and descriptions may give a business or household a visual idea of what a well-thought-out kit looks like.
Marilyn Marshall is from Hays.