Is Your Business Ready for an Emergency?

Are you ready for a hurricane?

Every few years an event like Hurricane Irene blows by, reminding businesses to check their disaster recovery plans.

As the East Coast braced for Hurricane Irene last weekend, you might have pulled out your own plan to review.

Or maybe you just thought, “We really should have an emergency response plan.”
(If that was you, what are you waiting for???)

Most disaster plans cover things like operations and PR, addressing questions like:

  • Where will our temporary offices be?
  • How will we communicate?
  • Can we keep our website up?
  • How do we reroute the phones?
  • What will we do about inventory losses?
  • Can we continuing shipping product?

If this sounds like your plan, you could be missing one really important element: people.

As a Florida native, I’m a veteran of many hurricanes, most memorably Hurricane Andrew. I was living just south of Miami and had recently purchased my first house. Andrew destroyed that home, along with those of many of my friends and co-workers.

In the days after the storm, we rallied together, sharing tips on how to get through the insurance mess, where to do laundry and how to send mail. Thankfully, my employer did not care that I showed up for work in dirty shorts and a ragged t-shirt (most of us were equally dirty and not quite shower fresh).

Although it took months to recover, we got through the mess and learned some valuable lessons in the process. Here are a few that you might consider:

How will your employees get to work if there’s a natural disaster? Simple things like commuting to work become a real problem when you car has been destroyed and there are no buses running. One solution is to offer employees transportation through ride sharing or a company-run shuttle.

Can you accommodate flexible hours? What will you do when employees need time off to meet with the insurance adjuster, deal with emotional trauma and pick up the pieces of their lives? Consider allowing employees to shift hours as needed, and relax requirements for using paid time off.

What about housing? In a widespread disaster, many employees will be forced out of their homes. For homeowners, insurance may provide an allowance for temporary living expenses (i.e. renting an apartment). However, housing and furniture will likely be in short supply.

Employees without insurance won’t have a safety net. They could be forced to live with relatives or to leave the area altogether. If employees relocate, even on a temporary basis, they may experience financial strain replacing basic necessities and managing a long commute.

How will you replace employees that leave and never come back? This was a big issue after Hurricane Katrina, since so many people were out of their homes for an extended period of time. For many, it was easier to resettle in another city than to come back and rebuild. Can you retain employees through a transition by allowing them to work remotely?

If you run a local business, the impact of an event on customers is also a concern. Will they return when you reopen your business? Plan ahead to stay in touch with existing customers to let then know how things are going, and when you will be ready for business.

When disaster strikes, community counts. The ability to rebuild your business may depend on how you engage with employees and customers in the days following the event. Think in advance about ways you can support customers as well as employees in an emergency.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be able to offer free products or discounted services to the local community. If that is not an option, think of ways you can help by providing access to meeting rooms, sponsoring meals or other services.

A little goodwill can help speed the recovery process, and will be remembered for a long time.

Photo by Joellyn Ferguson.

  1. I was living in Miami at the time Andrew passed through. I hope you were not living in Country Walk. That area sort of disappeared. I had a dental practice there at the time and I got my doors opened as fast as the county would allow. I did not expect anyone to show up for there appointment. People not only showed up I had to turn people away. I learned that when a Comunity is stressed it tries to get back to normal as fast as possible I listened to my patients tell their stories for months and months. I believe it is very important to be a part of Comunity Then when disaster strikes reach out and help some one.

    I moved form Florida several years ago to the Hudson Valley of New York. Hello Irene.

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