An Ounce of Prevention: Emergency and Disaster Preparedness for Businesses

Operations manager, make emergency preparedness part of your operations management. Ignoring disaster planning can mean the difference between losing everything — or staying in business.

Your business’s risks may differ than others, depending on geography and many other factors. But once you’ve established those disasters for which you’re most at risk, it’s easier to take steps to mitigate the worst effects. 

Here are some best practices to protect and position your business for recovery and survival. 

Focus on Prevention

The best approach to avoiding any disaster is taking steps to p

revent it in the first place. This strategy won’t work, necessarily, for natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires — but you can still take steps to ensure you’ve protected your business to the best of your ability.

Schedule and conduct regular audits of fire prevention and safety systems, update personnel lists, conduct drills (if appropriate), and assess the effect of possible risks to your business to identify opportunities to improve your disaster planning.

Assess Possible Risks

When you assess potential risks, use historical data, for example, to estimate the potential of a natural disaster. Define what each risk category — legal, operational, reputational, security — looks like for your business. 

Once you’ve defined the relevant risk categories, estimate the impact of an emergency or disaster on your business’s assets or processes. A natural disaster, for example, might create a power outage thus affecting your servers, which could cause a chain reaction of additional outages. Retail companies relying on that server to host their own websites might find themselves affected as well — a situation with the potential to impact revenue and partner relationships.

Develop an Evacuation Plan

Identify and map primary and secondary building evacuation exits and routes for your employees. Install well-lit, clear, and easily visible exit signs and ensure they’re accessible. If your company has more than a handful of employees, form a committee to create an evacuation plan. Practice it, tweaking as needed, before implementing it. Designate a meeting place outside your building for everyone to gather and check in after they’ve evacuated. If any personnel have special needs or will require assistance, note it in your emergency preparedness and evacuation plans.

Update Contact Information

Whenever there’s a personnel change, update the contact information — especially cell phone numbers — in your emergency preparedness plan. Also include (and verify accuracy at least once a year) of the emergency contact numbers for various first responders and disaster relief agencies.

Also keep contact info for your customers, distributors, suppliers and vendors current. While they may not regularly be on site, the ability to connect with them quickly helps maintain trust and strong relationships. Make at least three copies of all your contacts’ information and store at least one copy offsite.

Create an Emergency Kit

What’s included in your emergency kit may differ from location to location — but include these essential items no matter what:

  • Battery powered radio
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • First aid supplies
  • Nonperishable food and water
  • Tool kit

Store the kit in an accessible location and make sure multiple people know where to find it.

Protect Important Business Records

Depending on the emergency, you may need to connect with your insurance company. Even if you don’t, it’s still wise to keep multiple copies of those records. For those stored on site, invest in a fire, heat, burglary, and tool-resistant safe such as one tested and listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Store other copies off premises in the cloud.

Understand and Obtain the Right Insurance Coverage

Choosing the right policy is one critical factor in determining whether you can reopen your business should disaster strike — or be forced to close. Whether you’re seeking a new policy or preparing to renew, review your policy options with your insurance agent. Understand your deductibles and the type of coverage you need. Insurance offers many types of coverage, and they’re all subject to exclusions and limitations.

The Importance of Business Continuity Management

Business continuity management (BCM) and planning empowers businesses prepare and plan for recovery after an emergency like severe weather events, cyberattacks, bomb threats, computer/server shutdowns, or — as we recently experienced — a global health crisis.

While disaster recovery plans focus on getting systems up and running and businesses functional again, BCM focuses instead on defining the approach to business operations during unusual circumstances — a disaster or emergency.

Business continuity plans include several components, focusing on:

  • How long your business can last without full access to its assets, operating locations, tools, and anything else crucial to operations
  • Potential outcomes if you’ve lost access to customer records, facilities, server and other technology, or anything else
  • How long your business can operate without electricity, phone service, water, or internet — or how long it can operate if you’re using generators for power
  • What workflow and process changes must happen to maintain critical operations until the emergency has passed
  • Potential scenarios most likely to occur that would create the greatest organizational disruption

Protecting Data

Because every company across all industries is reliant on data, its protection warrants its own section!  Your disaster recovery and BCM plans should include a written component on data recovery. At minimum, your data recovery plan should include a step-by-step process of what to do, who owns the responsibility, and how to recover the data should your server be affected. 

If your company relies on its network and cannot ‘survive’ if it’s out of commission for more than a few hours, work with a professional to determine the best plan for data recovery. Many options exist — from the ability to virtualize servers to other less expensive options. But before an emergency ever occurs, having a good business contingency plan with a framework designed to allow you to restore your network is critical.

Automate your backups — and while we’ve said it before, make multiple copies of those backups and store at least one offsite. The number 1 cause of data loss? Human error. Automating backups eliminates that crucial weakness. Set up remote network access and management so you and your IT staff can do what’s needed during an emergency or to keep up with routine maintenance. 

Ask your IT manager or IT partner to compile your network documentation — a blueprint of the data, hardware, software, and systems on which your company relies. Having this information in one place facilitates network restoration, helps control costs, and is easily accessed should you need it for insurance claims. 

Since you’re more likely to experience a cyberattack causing downtime and data loss, prioritize system maintenance. Your It team should keep your network patched, secure, and updated while also monitoring software for corruption and hardware for deterioration.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, operations manager, or CRE investor, disaster and emergency planning is critical to protect your business. 

Are you a commercial real estate investor or looking for a specific property to meet your company’s needs? We invite you to talk to the professionals at CREA United: an organization of CRE professionals from 92 firms representing all disciplines within the CRE industry, from brokers to subcontractors, financial services to security systems, interior designers to architects, movers to IT, energy management professionals, and more. 

Related Articles