Last updated on January 3rd, 2022 at 01:17 pm
Being prepared to continue your operations even in the event of a disaster is a critical aspect of your business.
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If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that not all businesses are well prepared for the unexpected. It’s true that few of us could have predicted the severity of damage that this pandemic could cause — small businesses are still operating less than 20% of the hours they were pre-COVID. But we also have to accept that, alongside weak government response, businesses could have planned more adeptly to mitigate the damage.
Disasters of any kind have the potential to disrupt business operations, and a comprehensive disaster planning approach is an essential tool to fend off the worst effects. We may be more used to seeing this from large corporations that can hire experts and consultants, but the truth is that disaster protection is accessible to small businesses, too. The key is to understand where to focus your efforts in a way that allows you to weather disruption, and build from a position of strength.
Let’s take a moment to review some of the primary elements that should inform your disaster planning and protection. How should you approach the process, and what tools should you be using to implement it?
Build a Team
Even with small businesses, it’s difficult to understand how all elements of the company can be affected when things go wrong. After all, this is why we tend to employ staff in a variety of roles — they understand the nuances of their area of expertise in ways that leadership doesn’t. In order to better protect your business against potential disasters, your first act should be to gather an emergency preparedness team to take responsibility for planning and the execution of procedures.
Your approach should include:
It is essential for every member of the team to have a clear concept of what they and everyone else does during the planning process, throughout different types of emergency, and on the road to recovery.
Work together to understand where strengths lie, in order to allocate tasks appropriately. Who is best to establish financial impact and resources required? Who can handle the communication issues to customers, staff, and other stakeholders? Who has the organizational chops to produce plans, conduct drills, and ensure procedures are followed?
Creating an Agile Hierarchy
This is not so important for the planning aspects, but during emergencies, a chain of command can help ensure tasks are performed as safely and efficiently as possible. This shouldn’t necessarily work by company seniority; rather, leadership should be based on the most capable and appropriate figures for each scenario.
Remember that different types of emergencies each have different sets of priorities, and therefore require shifts in leadership — a cybersecurity breach, for example, requires different expertise to a natural disaster. From this, create a framework which can be altered to fit the needs of the situation.
Audit for Issues
Your disaster preparedness strategy needs to be thorough. Therefore, once you have your team in place, it’s important that all members get together to audit the business for potential areas of concern.
This should include:
The Scope of Issues
This aspect of your audit is focused on the types of issues that could have an impact on the running of your operations. Consider natural disasters, public health emergencies, cybercrime, utility and internet outages, terrorism (domestic as well as external), and civil unrest. However, it’s also important to home in on those that are particularly prevalent in your local geographical area — are you more prone to seasonal flooding, are earthquakes particularly problematic, does your tech-heavy industry make you more of a target for cybercrime?
The Areas of Vulnerability
Have relevant expert members of the team go through all areas of the business to identify what elements are particularly vulnerable should disasters occur. Your cybersecurity team should be analyzing not only for technical weaknesses, but also gaps in secure employee behavior. If you operate from an older building, have maintenance workers do thorough inspections to note weak points orsuch as banging in the pipes or humming and buzzing from electrical outlets that can suggest deeper issues. Repairing these vulnerable elements not only stops them from being causes of disruption in the short-term, but also prevents them from becoming further complications during a disaster.
Responding effectively to a disaster requires more than ideas and organization, it is also dependent upon resources. These help make the contingencies you and your team design practical. Therefore you need to ensure these are in place well in advance of anything going wrong.
They should include:
Adequate insurance to help you rebuild after an emergency should be a priority. However, this may not kick in quickly enough to deal with all the immediate issues you, your staff, and your customers are facing. Create an emergency savings fund if possible, or build a relationship with your commercial banking provider that allows you access to emergency funds or overdrafts at low rates. You should also have access to cash in the event of electronic funds being temporarily unavailable.
As we’ve seen recently, circumstances may arise that see your staff having work remotely. Ensure that you are able to provide appropriate computers, telecommunications devices, and furniture, especially for employees who may be working from apartments or small homes and don’t already have a dedicated office space. Don’t just think functionally here, either. Consider comfort, too — employees still need to be healthy and happy in order to be productive in this environment.
Handling an emergency needs reliable communication. However, it may be the case that a disaster will render your usual forms unusable. Prepare emergency accounts with alternative mobile networks and internet providers. Establish partners who can make social media posts or email announcements to customers when you are unable to.
Emergency scenarios are an unfortunate fact of our reality, and we don’t have control over when or how they’ll occur. However, we can control our ability to respond effectively. Gather a team of capable employees, gain a deeper understanding of the full potential for problems, and produce a robust set of contingency resources. Thorough advance preparation could mean the difference between stumbling at the hurdles and successfully resuming operations.
Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, social justice, environmental protection, and more. In her off time you can find her in the mountains with her two dogs. You can follow her work on Contently, or reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @indianalee3