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Inc. Magazine’s tips to keep your doors open after a disaster

May 13, 2010

We all know we should do it.  Doesn’t matter if you are in the private sector or public or non-profit.  It’s not a matter of if, but when, but the press of the day never seems to leave enough time.

The immediate crowds out the important.

In the world of hazard mitigation, we know it’s only a matter of time before one natural disaster or another is going to hit, not to mention all of the technological hazards lurking around every corner.  And when disaster hits, how are you going to keep your doors open?

Inc. Magazine highlights this question of business continuity planning in light of the historic flooding in Nashville this month:

An estimated 25 percent of businesses never reopen their doors following a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety….

Establishing a framework for your employees to tackle the nightmarish process of notifying customers and reinstating timely delivery of products and services after a disaster is an essential long-term strategy for your business. It’s known as a business continuity plan, a document that lists emergency contact information, backup suppliers, and a detailed recovery plan. Reaching the end goal of a written plan is the culmination of a long process involving many different parties. Here’s how to get started.

The individual business continuity plan should take into account a dispassionate assessment of hazards and potential mitigation measures, such as we do in a hazard mitigation plan.  For example:

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), fire is actually the most common hazard to businesses. Here are a number of relatively simple steps FEMA advises you can take to limit fire risk:

  • Meet with your local fire department to have your facility inspected for fire hazards and to make sure it meets all fire codes and regulations.
  • Hand out fire safety information on how to prevent fires, how to contain fires, how to evacuate the building, and how to report fires.
  • Conduct evacuation drills.
  • Talk with your insurance carrier as well to find out what measures they recommend and to see if they offer fire prevention training.
  • Organize a safe disposal place for potentially combustible materials.

Flooding also can’t be overlooked. Here’s what FEMA recommends:

  • Review the geography of your building. Are you located in a flood plain? What’s the elevation of your facility in relation to the closest river? Is there a history of flash flooding in your area? What’s the fastest way to higher ground?
  • Talk to your insurance carrier about flood insurance.
  • Hire a professional to flood proof your facility. There are a variety of options and costs to doing so, from structural changes like reinforcing walls to resist water pressure and installing permanent pumps to remove water. There are also simpler precautions, such as buying battery-powered lighting and sandbags.

    Even if you have a fully functional, NIMS-compliant plan in place, it might be worthwhile to help the people you do business with to understand how easy it is to complete continuity planning.  How do you reach critical employees if your usual place of business is inaccessible?  What do you do if the folks you normally get your supplies from are out of business after a flood?  Best to find out now.

    The trick is to be redundant. Arrange backup vendors or suppliers to provide you with critical resources and materials. Make sure you have a technology recovery plan, and that you have backed up important IT data like customer records and corporate documents. Back them up more than once, and arrange a secure, off-site storage location. Make sure the appropriate people have knowledge of relevant passwords and codes, and that you have backup tech vendors arranged.

    I doesn’t have to be complicated—we do our best when we plan for the worst.



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