Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Were You & Your Business Prepared for Recent Winter Weather? Be Prepared For Future Emergencies
Did last week’s winter weather catch you off guard or were you safe at home with all your supplies before a single flake fell from the sky? When Mother Nature throws us a curveball, there are many different details to be considered; in addition to physical safety, businesses must consider how to get the word out about schedule or service changes and how to fulfill commitments.
Still, it is not just weather-related issues that can be emergencies for you and your company… An emergency is any situation posing immediate risk to life, health, property or environment, which can include computer crashes or viruses, contagious diseases, earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, ice storms, random power outages, shootings, terror alerts, theft, tornadoes, tsunamis and, even, death.
While the thought of something bad happening might be too difficult to consider, it’s vital to take simple steps to protect yourself, your team and your overall business. Here are steps to get started.
First, make a plan. What types of disasters are possible for your area? If you must evacuate, who makes that decision, what should be the exit plan and who do folks contact to check-in that they’ve made it to safety? What essential equipment must be taken from the premises as you are evacuating? How do you turn off water, gas and electricity at the main switches or valves? Where is your fire extinguisher and how do you operate it? From where can employees obtain important updates, especially when and where to return to work, particularly if there is a back-up location or if team members will be working remotely? How will you facilitate payroll in an emergency situation? Might it be helpful to keep some cash in the office, just in case you can’t get to the bank? Engage your entire team in this planning as each employee will have a different perspective and bring new ideas to the process. Further, it is important to keep these business policies and procedures in writing.
Second, prepare for communication gaps. There are many groups of individuals who will want to know what your company is doing in various circumstances. Where should employees look for necessary directives? Which team members will need to know what? What questions will arise from vendors about how business will continue? How will you notify your customers of operating plans and ways to interact with you? Will you continue to offer customers support via email, phone, online chat, eFax, snail mail or what? How soon will customers’ experiences with your company return to normal, and what should be expected in the interim? Is a press release necessary to alert the public of your business’ plans? An excellent example from this past week is how local florists were impacted by winter weather over the days leading into the Valentine’s Day holiday… If your business depends on certain dates, it may be even more important to alert consumers of your plans related to those dates. How can you utilize your website and marketing materials to communicate your emergency game plan?
Fourth, prepare your personal and company’s property to withstand disaster. Taking into account what hazards are likely to hit your property in each type of disaster, like flooding, extreme wind, piles of snow on your roof and electrical blackouts, what can you do to safeguard your essential business equipment? Do you utilize hosted email exchange server, hosted VoIP and cloud storage to backup messages as well as secure vital documents should your physical location be impacted by natural disasters? Further, does your building meet current safety standards to survive what disasters might strike? Should you earth or elevate equipment for its protection? If there is advance notice for any emergency, how early do you take proactive steps to prepare property?
Fifth, keep important paperwork ready for your business, just as you would for your family or yourself. Do you have your insurance policies and related contact options easily accessible? Have you scanned business licenses, permits and property deeds into the cloud so they’ll be available if you must relocate? Is there an easily accessible list of your company’s service contracts with applicable contact information as well as financial account details and their associated contacts’ details? What should be stored in the cloud? What should be stored in fire- and flood-proof safes? Are there needs specific to your industry or your location?
Sixth, keep all contact records up-to-date. While I always recommend utilizing a Customer Relationship Management Tool, in the instance of an emergency, where you are storing the information is not nearly as important as having accurate and up-to-date contact information. You’ll need to notify customers, vendors and employees alike of your plans to continue operating as usual or re-open on a specific date as well as how to communicate / interact with you during every step of the recovery process. If you don’t have their contact preferences, you cannot convey this necessary information, and that may delay getting back to normal.
Maintenance is important! Once you’ve established a solid foundation, be certain to review your plans and supplies at least every 6 months. Train each new hire immediately as he / she joins your team. Conduct fire and emergency drills regularly, scheduling regular reviews of how to operate fire extinguishers, changing smoke alarms’ batteries and conducting regular training for team members on First Aid, CPR and AED. Finally, to support ongoing success, when disaster strikes, document what worked or didn’t for future planning.
On a related note, I am a huge fan of Evernote as a tool for helping me “remember everything”. It’s not just about making notes or keeping information available in the cloud so that it’s easily accessible everywhere; it’s also about finding what I need quickly when I need it. Emergencies are an excellent example of where Evernote is useful. Whenever an emergency strikes, it’s easy to slip into a panic. Well, checklists are helpful in panic-prone situations, and Evernote is an excellent location to store those necessary checklists. Beyond that, though, many details related to your company’s tech tools, products, service contracts and accounts could be easily stored in Evernote.
Take action today… Think about all the possible issues that might face your company. Create a contingency plan so your business operates with continuity regardless of the situation and circumstances that you and your team shall face. Will you be prepared when Mother Nature strikes next or when we are faced with a terror attack? What is your game plan for your business when facing various emergencies?