Businesses large and small face emergencies every year. Those that come through relatively unscathed are the ones that gave some thought to emergency planning and business continuity before they needed it! It doesn’t have to be complicated but pre-thinking the possibilities will help support a strong response and a quick recovery in the event something happens.
Building resilience into your business makes good business sense; here are a few key activities you can exercise in advance of an emergency that will help you ride it out.
Know The Risks
First, it’s good to know the risks – which emergencies or disasters have your community faced in the past? Are you in an area that is earthquake prone? Has a high incidence of tornadoes? Hurricanes? Are you located near heavily wooded areas subject to forest fires? Are you situated on a floodplain? Knowing how you are most likely to be affected will help you in planning for the possibilities.
Of course, those situated in Lac-Mégantic, QC and High River, AB may have been aware of the risk their location presented, but no amount of planning would have prevented the level of devastation they faced in 2013. There is value, therefore, in taking an all-hazards approach to your planning. Regardless of the cause, you can plan for the effect: evacuation, sheltering in place, loss of power, loss of facility, loss of staff… Preparing for each of these situations will serve most retailers in most circumstances.
However you tackle it, you’ll want to plan for both the response to the emergency and the need to continue doing business.
Make An Emergency Plan
Protecting the lives of your employees and your customers is the first priority. If something happens while you are in the store, do you know what to do? For example, if there is severe weather, do you have a designated “tornado room” in your store? This is usually a basement room with no exterior walls. Stock it with tornado provisions… food, water, and a whistle. If you’re in an active tornado area, post signs in the store so that your customers and employees know where to go. Pre-program a weather radio for particular risks in your area – it will turn on automatically with emergency alerts. Simple planning can save you seconds when they count.
Think through all the possible risks in your area and make a plan for what you will do. Do you have a generator in case of a power outage? Do you receive emergency alerts on your smart phone? Do you have a way to call for help when the cell towers are down? Do you have first aid kits easily accessible in the store and people with first aid training on your staff?
When you are asked to “shelter in place” by local authorities, that means you, your customers, and your employees are safer inside than out, and need to make yourselves comfortable. This can be for a short time (gas leak in the area) or for a longer stay (severe snow storm). Consider the supplies you might want to keep on hand. If you’re storing food and water, make sure to refresh your supply every six months or so. And plan for a way for folks to communicate with their families.
If you are asked to evacuate, each employee will want to have a personal “go-bag” – cash, flashlight, batteries, medication, spare glasses, family contact information, spare keys, toiletry items, copies of important documents, a change of clothes, food, water, etc. In 2011, when the forest fires in northern Alberta produced too much smoke for residents to stay in the area, more than 15,000 people were cleared from their homes, some with very little warning. If an evacuation is ordered while employees are at work and they are unable to return to their homes, their go-bag supplies would come in handy. You may also want a list of employees’ cell numbers for purposes of keeping in touch until the event is over.
Make A Business Continuity Plan
Every business continuity plan must start with good insurance. When Steve’s Music in Ottawa was inundated with flood waters in 2011, most of the store was unusable for several months. “We had an excellent insurance policy, with replacement cost,” claims Peter Andruchow, General Manager. “We had use of 20 per cent of the store. We had only the guitar department open, along with ‘satellite’ displays of our other departments.” Because their warehouse wasn’t affected, they were still able to fill orders. Their policy included business disruption coverage, which proved a worthwhile investment. Consider that a local disaster could leave your property unscathed but impair your customers’ access to the store. Be clear what your policy covers and what it doesn’t.
In 2008, when a fire gutted the first floor of his St. Catharines, ON store, Thorold Music, Leonard Moretti was tested on many levels. Having lost his brother – and partner – two years before to a heart attack, he had barely got his feet under him when he arrived at the store that morning to find fire trucks out front. Fire had started in their new acoustic room and gutted the whole first floor. The store was closed for eight months. While Moretti did carry some insurance, their policy did not include business interruption coverage. He also recommends “key person insurance” to other small businesses, especially those with partnerships. Moretti regrets that he and his brother decided against it when they first set up the business. “We were young and invincible.”
Make sure you have contact information for your employees, suppliers, service providers, and contractors. Communicate with your customers: let them know that your doors are open, where you’ve set up temporarily, or when you expect to re-open. If you’re able to continue offering online service, let your customers know that, too. Update your website and use social media avenues. Let your suppliers know what’s happened. Moretti remembers a truck with incoming inventory arriving at the fire scene. “We had to pay freight both ways on that shipment. Now, we might want to send an email right away to all suppliers telling them to turn their trucks around.”
With our dependence on technology, it’s critical to have computer back-ups in place. Put copies of important files on a USB stick – perhaps one at the office and one at home – or deposit your files in an encrypted folder in the cloud so that you can access them anywhere.
Preparedness Is Everyone’s Business
As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” While it’s good to have plans in place in the end, it’s the process of planning that is key. Engaging your employees in the process helps ensure their buy-in. Test your plans by conducting drills and exercises and use what you learn from these to update and improve your plans. Take advantage of a smaller-scale event (perhaps a power outage) to test your plans. It allows you to use the low-risk situation to measure how things would work in a larger-scale event.
Update your plans annually. Refresh your supplies and update contact information. Provide updated training, especially to new employees. Make it a company-wide event. Incentivize if you have to. Get everyone involved.
Andruchow attributes much of Steve’s Music’s successful recovery from the flood to having a solid, established business. “We had regular and loyal customers, good staff, and a manager that fears no disaster.” Concerned that he would lose good employees while closed for eight months, Moretti offered his employees jobs in the demolition, cleaning, and rebuilding of the store. “The support was phenomenal,” he states. “We were all in this together!”
When your employees are prepared for emergencies at home, they are more available to help respond to emergencies at work. Think about how you can help your employees be more prepared at home. This can only help your business get back on track sooner.
Once you’ve taken these steps, participate in emergency preparedness activities in your community during National Emergency Preparedness Week – the first week of May each year in Canada. Be a loud and public advocate! This lets your employees, customers, and community know that you are serious when it comes to being prepared for emergencies.
Leila Brown is an Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity Specialist in Orangeville, ON. She gets much satisfaction from creating resilience for companies, communities, organizations, and individuals. Leila can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.thereadyprinciple.com for more information.