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Can Your Company Survive a Disaster?
Robert L. Lowenthal, Jr. is Retired Senior Vice President - Group Manager and can be reached at
Fire, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes. When they happen, they can destroy buildings, equipment, and hard-to-replace data, and even injure or kill employees. It can take a business weeks, sometimes months, to resume operations after a disaster. Some businesses never recover. You can’t pin down the time or day when a disaster may strike your business. However, you can certainly prepare for one. Preparing for a disaster can minimize the potential damage and may protect you and your employees from harm.
Knowing what to do if a disaster strikes your business is half the battle. Savvy business owners draw up a disaster plan and update it regularly. They consult with experts and draw on the lessons learned from the past. Moreover, they designate alternate business sites, emphasize data preservation, and ensure that the business’ insurance coverage is sufficient.
Drawing Up a Disaster Plan
If your business does not already have a disaster plan, now may be a very good time to develop one. Consider forming a disaster planning committee and assign it the task of crafting and implementing a disaster plan for your business. Give committee members the opportunity to attend seminars, meet with experts, and take training courses related to disaster planning.
If your disaster plan is to have any value at all, it must, at a minimum, outline in detail all of the steps managers and employees need to take if disaster hits your business. An effective and workable disaster plan should cover personnel safety and management succession.
Personnel Safety and Management Succession
An effective disaster plan should clearly identify safety areas for employees as well as an evacuation route. Specific individuals should be responsible for confirming that all employees have reached the safety area. The plan should outline a chain of command, indicating the responsibilities and duties assigned to each manager or employee during a disaster.
A list of emergency phone numbers — hospitals, doctors’ offices, and the company’s lawyers and accountants — is an important part of the plan. Be sure to include the home phone numbers of employees and the names of family members who can be contacted
in an emergency.
Ensuring management continuity after a disaster should also be a top priority. That requires establishing procedures that detail the responsibilities and duties of each member of the management team in the days and weeks after a disaster. The procedures should clearly define a line of succession and give instructions on how to communicate any changes or information to employees, customers, vendors, and professional advisors. Creating and implementing these procedures helps keep your business operational during a difficult time.
Alternate Business Sites
Getting your business up and running after a disaster is much easier if you have an off-site facility for storing backed-up data vital to your operations. You’ll need to be able to access customer and vendor lists, accounts receivable records, and other critical records if you are to resume operations quickly. Make sure you identify and classify corporate data according to its importance and begin to back it up as soon as possible.
It may be worthwhile to look into alternate business sites, essentially office complexes with computers, work areas, and phones. When disaster strikes, you move your personnel to the alternate site.
Review your business insurance policies to identify any potential shortcomings in your coverage. Business interruption insurance, which compensates a business for the loss of operating income when normal operations are disrupted by disaster, is a key element in business insurance planning. Take the time to periodically reexamine your business’ umbrella liability, fire, vehicle, and property insurance. Keep several copies of all your policies at different locations.
Don’t Let Your Plan Gather Dust
Make sure key employees receive a copy of the disaster plan. Keep it updated. Practice emergency drills. A proactive approach can potentially minimize the impact of a disaster.