Recently, I was busy at my desk in preparation for another week of projects, proposals and client deliverables…when disaster struck.
My water main sprung a leak that would become a basement-flooding torrent if I didn’t act fast.
Needless to say, my business plans for the next few days were abandoned. Fixing this disaster became my only priority.
Fortunately, I was able to reschedule my meetings, but what really saved me was being prepared. I had a trusted contractor on speed dial, friendly neighbors who I could rely on for temporary access to their water system, and I kept a cool head because I’d already planned for this exact possibility.
Being prepared for unexpected disasters is a key survival strategy, whether you’re a small business owner like me or you run an enterprise-level operation. And in the face of such challenges, a fast recovery is paramount.
Always safety first
It’s impossible to plan for absolutely everything, but start to consider the various events that could affect your business. No one expects water to come gushing through their office ceiling, a wind-blown tree to crash through their showroom window or an ice storm to send their delivery trucks into the ditch. But if you’re in business for any length of time, something is bound to happen — big or small. Identifying these possibilities is the first step.
The most important aspect of your preparations will be to maintain the safety of your staff and customers, so make sure you have evacuation and safety response plans in place. As well, add emergency numbers and other essential contacts into a format that will be easy to access on the run — that means both online and offline versions of your contact lists.
A temporary home base
If your office suddenly becomes unusable, you’ll be able to maintain business continuity if you have a backup worksite.
In preparation for such an event, ensure your data is backed up regularly and can be accessible from anywhere. Potential locations for a temporary operations base can include rented commercial space, co-working spaces or having your employees work from home.
One major company I worked with had an agreement with a nearby hotel that guaranteed the use of a ballroom in times of need. They deliberately chose a hotel that was not too close to the office, in case nearby buildings would also be affected by a possible disaster.
Also, identify the bare essentials in office equipment and supplies that your staff will need to keep things going. If you can get by with cell phones and laptops, fantastic. But is there any specialized equipment you’ll need? If so, make sure you’ll be able to get access to it in a hurry.
The dollars and cents
Consider building an emergency fund into your annual operating budget that can be accessed quickly.
And it goes without saying, but verify you have adequate insurance and are covered for any potential disaster. Consult your insurance broker to check on your plan — it’s in their best interest to minimize the impact on your business and handle these issues fast, so this will be a welcome discussion.
Ask an expert to develop your plan
In fact, getting advice from various experts is a vital part of preparing for disaster. Your insurance broker might also be able to recommend a good consultant to help prepare a disaster plan and train your staff.
Talk to peers and similar businesses in your industry about who they use for these services. You can also contact your local Emergency Measures Operation or Chamber of Commerce to get a referral. And visit the Government of Canada’s “Get Prepared” website where you can learn how to deal with a wide variety of hazards and disasters, along with contacts to community organizations.
Communicate to your teams
Once you’ve created your disaster plan, make sure your team is properly trained. Get everyone to think through the steps involved and to be aware of their individual roles.
Think through the logistics involved in the execution of your plan. For example, if you will need to move key pieces of equipment to a temporary facility, figure out how you’re going to get it out the door, onto a truck and into place. Otherwise, you might find yourself realizing that it’s not going to fit, or it’s too heavy to lift — and that may be too late!
Then practice implementing your plan. Just like fire drills, disaster drills prepare us for the real thing. Practice and planning can save time and avoid confusion during a real event, when the adrenaline is flowing.
Once things have calmed down, begin to take stock of how the disaster has affected your business and what’s required to minimize the damage to your clients, operations and reputation. And be willing to rethink your goals, targets and plans if there are setbacks.
It’s never too late to reflect on past crises either. Take the time to review what happened from years past, who was impacted, how the plans were followed, what worked well and what could have been improved.
With an effective plan in place to deal with such disasters, you can significantly minimize the impact on your business during these unexpected challenges.