Create a Business Emergency Plan

Over a long enough period of time, every business faces some kind of emergency. This may be a fire, a tornado, extreme weather — or even a non-physical emergency, like a hack or data breach. These emergencies can cause serious damage, especially for businesses that don’t have a response plan in place. In some cases, emergency preparedness can mean the difference between staying in business and losing everything. Below is how to create a business emergency plan to help keep your staff and resources safe during an emergency.

Step 1. Risk Assessment

To develop an emergency plan, you need to know which emergencies your business is most likely to face.

Any business with an office or physical storefront, for example, faces the risk of fire. Businesses that handle large amounts of customer data may be at risk of a hack or data breach.

Where your business is located can also affect potential risks. Hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms and other forms of extreme weather can be much more likely in certain parts of the country. Knowing local risks may allow you to prepare your business for emergencies more effectively.

You’ll also want to consider government requirements for disaster preparedness. Depending on your business’s size and location, you may need to follow certain rules around how you prepare. Businesses with more than 10 employees, for example, need to follow OSHA guidelines on disaster planning.

Step 2. Plan Development

Once you’ve identified the most likely disasters or emergencies your business will face, you can decide how you’ll prepare. OSHA recommends beginning with brain-storming the worst-case scenario, imaging all the possible things that could go wrong for each possible emergency.

You should also gather critical documents. Such as floorplans, descriptions of fire suppression systems, and documentation of network cyberdefenses. This will help you create plans and evacuation routes.

Next, you should aim to create the framework for your plan. At a minimum, most plans include the following:

A method for reporting emergencies,
An evacuation policy and procedure,
Emergency escape procedures and route assignments,
Names, titles and contact information for individuals to contact for additional information or reporting during an emergency,

Emergency plans usually also include information on how employees can minimize damage and ensure safety during an emergency evacuation:

Procedures for employees who will stay behind during the emergency to perform essential services like shutting down equipment or operating fire extinguishers,
Procedures for securing and backing up important documents and records,
A list of rescue and medical duties that employees will need to perform.

Depending on the type of emergency you’re planning for, you may not need all of these elements. A hack, for example, will require reporting and immediate response to keep records safe — but an evacuation probably won’t be necessary.

Your plan should also consider how you’ll alert employees in the event of an emergency.

Ideally, you should have a clear idea of what conditions are considered an emergency and who will determine if your business is dealing with an emergency. Typically, businesses have an employee who can make that judgment call and alert others in an emergency.

Many businesses also invest in alert systems that will sound alarms and send push notifications to employee phones during an emergency.

Ideally, the emergency plan should guide your team through recognizing an emergency all the way through recovering after the fact. You should be ready for post-emergency financial risks, like customer complaints and lost records.

A good plan should also be both comprehensive and simple. It should cover all the potential risks your business may face while being easy to execute in the event that something goes wrong.

Comparing your plan against existing checklists or online recommendations can tell you if you’ve considered the most important aspects of emergency planning.

Training and emergency practice, covered below, will also help you know if your plans are straightforward and complete enough for your team to follow in an emergency.

Step 3. Assigning Roles and Emergency Preparation

When the framework of your emergency plan is ready, you can begin selecting employees for important emergency response roles.

For example, a business may ask for employee volunteers willing to guide staff to designated shelters or safe areas in an emergency. Another business may need volunteers who are willing to shut down building systems during an emergency.

Creating a list of these volunteers will streamline training and make it easier for staff to find leaders in an emergency.

In addition to a plan and volunteers, it’s also good to consider prevention and preparation. For example, investing in snow tires, salt, and snow shovels can ensure that you can keep your business operational and staff safe during a major snowstorm.

Your business can also do a lot to manage fire risk while creating its fire response plan.

For example, moving storage containers away from your building and using special containers for unsafe materials like oily rags can help prevent fires from starting due to a buildup of combustible material outside your business. Regularly inspecting and replacing fire extinguishers will make sure that they are ready when needed.

Step 4. Training and Plan Review

Training employees and running regular drills or exercises will help you ensure the plan works well in a real-life emergency.

Making plan documentation available and easy to access will provide employees with the information they need to follow your planning.

If exercises go well, it’s a good sign that your plan is easy to follow.

It’s important to regularly review your emergency plans, even if training and exercises are going well. As your business grows, the risks you face may also change. Performing a risk assessment and plan review every year will keep your plans fresh.

Prepare Your Business for an Emergency

Fires, tornadoes, floods and other emergencies can all be devastating for the business that isn’t prepared. Having a plan ready in advance will help you and your team stay safe in an emergency.

Effective plans typically provide evacuation routes, name points-of-contact and lay out procedures that employee volunteers must follow. Planning can be complemented by preparation — stocking up on supplies and inspecting resources that will help you protect your business during an emergency.

Author Bio: Eleanor is the editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She’s also a freelance web designer with a focus on user experience. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and dog, Bear

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