Tsunami warnings, earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods – the True North Strong and Free has been through a lot recently.
It’s a reminder that disaster can strike at any time. Sometimes it’s natural and other times it’s human caused, like theft, sabotage or error. And every business is vulnerable.
So why do some businesses bounce back and others go under? Some of it is luck. After all, you can’t control a storm’s path or where lightening will strike. But some of it – a lot of it – comes down to planning. And a lot of businesses fall way short.
There are some basics to cover in disaster planning, including essentials like:
- protecting data
- shifting operations to a remote location
- securing inventory from further damage
But one trumps all others: personnel safety. And it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law.
Decision makers who ignore or gloss over red flags which later prove to be early warning signs of a catastrophic event could find themselves being held criminal liable for injuries and fatalities.
In any disaster, when the dust settles and the lights get switched back on again, you should ask of yourself and your team what you learned, what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently. If things have gone poorly, you will be judged against:
- What you knew
- When you knew it
- What actions you took to protect your employees (in other words, did you take the right actions)
- When did you take those actions? (did you take those actions at the right time)
Effective disaster planning means taking time to sit down and actually think through a variety of disaster scenarios and what would need to happen in order to keep your workers safe.
It also means ensuring you have the correct disaster preparedness products on hand at all times since disasters are rarely scheduled events.
It’s best to work in a team and to encourage each other to challenge assumptions. In fact, it’s critical.
The City of Richmond BC advises that a good plan is prepared ahead of time and updated at least annually.
Your plan should address employee safety and basic survival first, followed by:
- emergency operating and financial procedures,
- alternative office facilities
- alternate data processing arrangements.
As well, you should have emergency kits on hand filled with:
- First aid supplies
- Heavy gloves
- Sanitation supplies
All of which should be in “secure, accessible locations.”
Communicating the plan to employees on a regular basis is essential. Everyone must also know where the plan is located and there should be hard copies of the plan easily accessible in case power and computers are knocked offline.
All equipment, whether on the plant floor, in the offices, warehouse, job site or house should be secured and anchored to prevent it toppling onto workers and causing secondary casualties.
While most workplace safety jurisdictions demand it, employers and employees should know what hazardous materials are on hand in case the event exposes them or others to it in large quantities. Everyone should also be trained in basic first aid and CPR and know their evacuation routes. The kits should be properly marked to been seen during power outages.
And while it may seem outside of your responsibilities, it is in the best interests of the company to encourage your workers to have their own disaster plan for their families. No one can work effectively trying to help the business recover if their own families have been hurt or the state of their well-being is unknown.
A plan can’t prevent disaster but it can save lives and livelihoods – if and only if it’s in place and everyone knows how to use it.