The COVID-19 crisis is showing us the importance of having an emergency plan in place. Natural disasters begs us to be prepared, but also that each situation is unique and sometimes unpredictable. Ultimately, though, your organization having an emergency plan can possibly save lives and keep those around you from giving in to panic.
First, before anything, plan to stay in business. No matter how terrible the tragedy, don’t assume right away that this is the end of what you’ve worked so hard to build. The best way to prepare for your survival is continuity planning, which we will discuss below.
Here are six ways to prepare your business for a possible earthquake now:
1. Put together an earthquake survival kit.
Your emergency kits should contain (at the very least) the following:
- Equipment in case of a power outage: flashlights, candles/matches, lighters, and perhaps a generator. Also consider a tool kit containing at least hammers, screwdrivers, and wrenches.
- Batteries: varied sizes (for instance, AA, AAA, D). As an alternative, you can choose solar-power. ]
- First-aid kits: we often think of these for minor accidents only, but it’s better to have a kit on hand than not having one.
- Bottles of water: one gallon of water per person for three days. Remember that water is not only for drinking; it’s for cleaning too. Also keep canned non-perishable food on hand.
- Blankets and tarps: If the weather is bad, you’ll need these as a form of protection.
- Evacuation maps: clearly illustrated and described, especially for those who may be new to your area. Be sure to laminate them and distribute them ahead of time.
- Emergency contact phone numbers/texts: This list should include the nearest fire and police departments, poison control, physicians, and local hospitals. This could help people in the situation who are new to the space and may not have this information on hand.
Check ahead of time that you have proper fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors. You would be surprised at how many people don’t think to have these items ready and operable for an emergency.
2. Assemble a cross-functional team and review the plan regularly.
Of course, having a plan in place is only half the battle -- you’re only halfway there. You’ll need to put a team in place who is responsible for executing the plan when the time comes. If done right, this precaution may help reduce panic, get questions answered and concerns addressed, and save lives.
- Who should be on the team? Think of the can-do people in your organization who are best at getting things done and putting any plan in action. Make sure everybody in your organization knows these team members in advance.
- What should the team do? They should assess the situation and activate the plan’s steps. These responsibilities include:
- Notifying staff, clients, tenants and customers.
- Knowing what and when to shut down in terms of operation
- Overseeing the plan as it goes into action.
If the police or fire department need to be involved in your location at some point, your team members should know that those authorities automatically assume responsibility. However, an onsite coordinator can help direct those authorities.
Remember to continuously review your plan. Address the weak links, or the steps that may have caused confusion or were not effective. Coordinate any changes or improvements to your plan with your local fire department (and let them review your existing plan).
3. Create an earthquake response plan.
Practice this plan with your staff. Make it mandatory. Make the practice a regular event. Don’t bother with “surprise drills,” as those may start a panic. Provide your staff with written or online information regarding preparedness skills and the details of your specific plan. When you hire new employees, make sure they are immediately included in disaster training as part of your employee orientation program.
Create a crisis communication plan.
Divide your plan into a “how” and “where:
- Use a multi-channel mass notification system to communicate with employees, vendors, stakeholders, and others in the event of a disaster (both during and after).
- What information will be needed to communicate to company executives, employees, your customers and the general public?
- Do you have contact information for local, state and federal authorities?
- Create an evacuation plan. How will your employees, customers and visitors leave your site quickly?
- Do you have more than one location? How will your evacuation plan differ from site to site?
- Is “staying put” a better safety option? This strategy is called “shelter in place.” This could be beneficial if the outside is less safe than the inside. It depends on the situation; understand the differences in advance. Plan for both possibilities.
4. Conduct a risk assessment.
Of course, the way you assess your risks depends on the type of business you have. It will also depend on the following:
- Your industry
- The size, scope and location of your company.
First, identify the operations that are most crucial to your business, especially the ones that will play a role in your survival and recovery. Questions you should ask yourself:
- Which staff, materials, procedures and equipment are absolutely essential to keeping your business operating?
- What procedures are in place for management and staff succession. If you don’t have one, start putting one in place now.
5. Determine your ability to serve your customers.
Depending on your business and how essential it is, you may need to work with your customers immediately after a disaster hits; that is, if you have a working plan already in place and ready to go.
In order to determine how you will serve your customers, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are your most important customers?
- How can you serve them during and directly after a disaster?
- Who are your main suppliers, shippers, other business clients who interact with you on a daily (or at least regular) basis?
- If a supplier is shut down or out of commission due to the disaster, who will you function? Is there a Plan B supplier you can use?
6. Secure important documents.
Remember that not all of your most important documents may not be sitting on the cloud. Keep copies of important hard-copy records in a fireproof, waterproof container. Store a second set of records at an off-site location.
Important documents can include:
- Bank account records
- Insurance policies
- Supplier and shipping contact lists
- Computer backups
- Emergency and law enforcement contact information
By the way, a word about your insurance policy:
- Review your insurance plan! Don’t assume that your policy automatically covers earthquake damage. All insurance policies are not created equal. Check with your agent or provider about the following:
- Physical losses
- Flood coverage (related to earthquakes)
- Business interruption
Know what your policy covers and what it doesn’t -- ahead of time.
The COVID-19 crisis has diverted our attention away from other naturally occurring disasters, but earthquakes continue to be a threat. USGS reports that, according to long-term records (since about 1900), sixteen major earthquakes may occur in any given year, which includes 15 earthquakes in the magnitude 7 range and one earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater.
Nothing we can do about this but be prepared.
Learn more about FEMA’s emergency plan advice for business.