Disaster Preparedness: Anticipating the Unexpected

Are you prepared for the unexpected?

  • Landing gear, “Check.”
  • Fuel tanks, “Check.”
  • Rudder, “Check.”

The risks of an airplane malfunction are minimal, statistically. But airlines go to great lengths to convince consumers that necessary precautions have been taken to prevent mechanical failures before any passenger sets foot inside the fuselage. We expect that kind of protection. In fact, we expect that the airlines not only check landing gear before takeoff, but that they also provide a redundancy system that will deploy the landing gear in case the primary system fails. It’s interesting that although we expect that kind of preparedness from businesses serving us, so few of us have taken steps to protect our own business investments.

Consider your business’s efforts to “keep flying” in the event of a disaster or other malfunction:

  • Tape backup… “Yeah, we make backup tapes, but they’re stored in the conference room. No one’s taken them offsite in a few months. If we ever needed to use them, we’d probably be O.K., unless Fred spilled coffee on them again.”
  • Inventory supply… “Well the only vital component we sell that we can’t make ourselves is the titanium-coated springs that we order from a company in the Florida Keys. The hurricanes usually knock out their power sometime in September, but they’ve always been up and running in a few days. Good thing, too. We’d be out of business without those springs.”
  • Human resources… “Yeah, our people are pretty good about showing up for work-except for that one ice storm last year.”
  • Surge protectors… “Geez, isn’t that what insurance is for?”

The number of known risks has escalated at a sobering pace in the past few years. Ten years ago we didn’t worry much about computer viruses, terrorist attacks, or even fire and flood. It is a different world today, and thankfully, most employers are taking proactive steps to assure that their business investment wouldn’t be destroyed by a freak tornado, a chemical spill, or an incident of workplace violence.

It would be almost impossible to anticipate and prepare for every conceivable disaster. If disaster management seems overwhelming, try managing your emergency preparedness with a three-tiered approach.

Tier 1 – Which business applications are truly critical and require recovery within 24 hours to keep your business afloat. You’ll find that many of these solutions are reasonably inexpensive ones: having a reliable system for data storage and recovery, or having backup power systems on hand to run computers and machinery, for example.

Tier 2 – Which applications would need to be restored within 48-72 hours? Will it be more important for the IT department to restore e-mail or to get your payroll software up and running? Can you prioritize your essential business functions?

Tier 3 – Which less-critical applications will need to be restored within a week?

Keep in mind that you’ll also need to anticipate “upstream” and “downstream” losses. If you depend on a paper supplier in order to print and deliver the brochures your company produces, do you have a plan B in case of a fire at the paper plant? Do you have someone else to sell pies to if your bakery depends on customers that are stranded at home because of flooding?

Here are some elements to be included in your company disaster plan:

  • How will you protect your critical resources, including human and physical resources
  • Consideration of all of the “known” risks to your company: Is your building located downstream from a dam, near a railroad, within the tornado belt?
  • A plan to reduce the impact of a disaster by creating “redundancy” systems. Where will your business relocate temporarily, if needed?
  • Who will maintain a list of emergency contacts, including after-hours contact information for all employees, lists of key creditors, customers and suppliers, and of course emergency personnel contact info (police, fire, ambulance).
  • A schedule for regular employee training (how to use a fire extinguisher, what to do in case of an incident of workplace violence, etc.)
  • A plan for contacting insurance and pre-prepared information (model numbers, serial numbers of equipment) for filing claims
  • A list of disaster supplies to keep on hand (a big roll of waterproof plastic could go a long way to preventing damage in an emergency, and some non-perishable food and water could save employees’ lives).
  • A plan for securing your building and protecting it against theft after a disaster, or protection from secondary damage (water damage after a hurricane or broken pipes in severe weather, for example)

Dozens of other ideas for your disaster plans are included in a “toolkit” provided by the Institute for Business and Home Safety. Open For Business (PDF)