Preparing Your Organization for a Disaster

Reality Alert

In 2013, a YMCA in Florida was devastated by a massive fire started after a lightning strike. Luckily, it was over a holiday weekend so there were no injuries. However, 70% of the building was lost to either fire or water damage. The Y estimated they would need $4 million in addition to the money they would receive from their insurance company to rebuild. It took over a year for the facility to be back in complete working order.

Planning and preparation are the keys to surviving and recovering from an emergency. Throughout this article we’ll outline the keys to getting your organization ready for the worst case scenario.

Before a Crisis: Planning

The best way to handle a crisis is to never be surprised. An organization that has taken the time to think through its response to an emergency will recover faster. It’s well worth the effort to develop extensive, crisis-specific and business-specific plans.

What disasters should you be considering?

Before coming up with an emergency action plan, key members of your organization must brainstorm all the situations the business could face. Depending on your location, for example, you may be more concerned with tornados and severe weather than others. A facility with a big water park will have different scenarios to plan for than one with a small wading pool. An organization caring for young children will have entirely different considerations than one that does not.

To determine the most pressing issues facing your organization spend time thinking about what keeps you up at night. What events (both weather-related and non weather-related) are at the forefront of your mind? These are likely the crises you need to be focusing on the most.

What if your organization is forced to shut down?

Business continuity is the process of planning how an organization will best respond to a crisis in order to get back up and running as quickly as possible. The goal of a business continuity plan is to have as little interruption to normal business operation as possible.

While planning, consider the different ways business operations could continue after a disaster. Identify the key business functions necessary to minimize lost income. Here are some questions that can help work through this process:

  • Are there plans to use an alternate site or secondary location if needed?
  • How will the computer system get back up and running, and how important is internet access?
  • Are copies of essential documents stored somewhere safe off site?
  • How long can the organization operate without electricity? Water?
  • How many long can the business be closed before losing a significant sum of money?
  • Can the organization operate with sections of the building closed and/or under repair?

Preparing for all types of emergencies, no matter how unlikely, will result in less interruption to the essential business operations.

How can you ensure a consistent emergency response?

Once all possible scenarios have been identified and a plan has been developed, a formal emergency action plan needs to be created. An emergency action plan should clearly lay out potential emergencies and the response for each one. All staff members should be trained and know what their role is in an emergency.

Practice. Practice. Practice!

Once an emergency action plan is in place, it is important to practice. If possible, run through potential scenarios and responses with the entire team. If problems with the plan are identified, address them as soon as possible. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that your initial plans will have taken into account every possible scenario. These mistakes should be viewed as important learning opportunities.

What to Do After a Crisis

Immediate steps to take after a crisis

Once the crisis is over, it’s time to focus on the business continuity plan. Start immediately taking steps to get the organization up and running, starting with the key business functions. If the building has sustained damage, an structural engineer should assess if it can be used while it’s being repaired. If it cannot, start making plans to use an alternate site. This is also when you would initiate the claims process with the organization’s insurance company.

Recovering from a disaster

Once core business functions have been restored, the focus changes to recovery. If a natural disaster struck, the entire community may be rebuilding. Employees may be out of a job or without a home while repairs are made, increasing stress on their family budgets. If an incident occurred where someone was hurt or killed, be sensitive to any families or individuals directly involved. Respect their privacy. Staff members in these circumstances may need additional help or counseling. Provide resources to support all staff members.

Post-disaster investigation

Initiate a thorough investigation to assess why the incident happened and how the organization responded. Did the emergency action plan work? What needs to be changed in the future? Take steps to improve safety if necessary and improve the response to the next emergency.

Free Incident Reporting eBook