A guide to proactive disaster planning for small businesses
A company’s survival depends on how prepared it is for natural or manmade disasters. A chemical spill, earthquake or tornado can disrupt or destroy a small business. Employers must evacuate workers to safety and protect crucial business data. And if necessary, employers must be ready to relocate the business and set up temporary operations elsewhere. HR's involvement throughout the disaster planning and response process is critically important.
Assemble a disaster management team
Select key staff members for a disaster management team. Members will decide and carry out strategies. Led by HR, team members should have at least one representative from safety and security, information technology, operations and communication.
Assign team members different tasks based on their specialties. A safety and security expert might direct evacuations and a communication professional might manage internal and public messages.
Inspect the worksite for hazards
Businesses must manage their risk for damage or destruction. The first step is to note which natural disasters are common in the area and what manmade disasters are possible. Of course, hurricanes, tornados, floods and earthquakes are natural disasters. Manmade disasters could be fires, chemical or oil spills and civil disturbances.
Inspect the worksite for safety hazards. Stabilize movable objects, which could cause injuries during a disaster. For example, fasten shelves securely to walls, and place heavy, free-standing objects at low levels.
Draft emergency procedures
Post emergency phone numbers for police, fire fighters and other first responders where workers can see them or store on their devices. Keep contact information current.
Instruct employees in first aid and CPR. Maintain emergency equipment and keep supplies well-stocked and ready to use. Emergency items include fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, and batteries for phones and radios.
Design an evacuation plan. Draw diagrams of escape routes and post them in common work areas, near exits and on bulletin boards. Draft procedures for safely evacuating disabled workers.
Exits must be clearly marked and emergency lights in working order should the electrical power go out. Test fire alarms for sound and work out a notification system for hearing-impaired employees.
Select an alternative worksite
Have alternative workspaces in mind in case the business site becomes inoperable. The home or other remote location can be used temporarily. Arrange a system for transporting and setting up salvaged or replacement equipment, such as computers, copiers and printers, to other locations.
HRIS, preferably cloud-based platforms, will maintain most of the business’ data during a disaster or emergency. But be sure to avoid data breaches, which might include contracting with a cybersecurity expert if necessary. Maintain duplicate files and store them offsite. Remind employees to back up computer files each business day.
Review your business insurance policy. Coverage should be enough to restart your business and replace vital equipment.
Test the disaster plan
Hold emergency and fire drills to determine whether all employees can be safely evacuated. Test the disaster management team’s ability to carry out assignments in a mock emergency. Also, test plans to move your company’s operations offsite.
Make necessary improvements to the plan, such as revising evacuation procedures, adding or replacing team members, installing new alarms or ordering more emergency supplies.
Employees might need help emotionally following a disaster. Add the services of an employee assistance program to the disaster plan.