How to Protect Your Company During a Natural Disaster
As the nation recovers from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and the wildfires in California, much attention right now is rightfully on the lives lost or severely impacted. We’ve watched the cable news coverage. We’ve seen the startling images. We’re aware of the number of residents displaced and the number of homes destroyed. We all wish we could do more for these people. We donate. We pray. Many have traveled to Texas or Florida to physically assist in rescue and recovery efforts. It is times like these where we come together as people to help fellow man in whatever way we can.
Natural disasters also adversely affect business, industry, and commerce. In fact, their impact on business can be felt for as long as two to three years following the event. While large companies can invest a portion of their operational profits into disaster recovery plans and preparation, losses accrued by an ill-prepared small business can be catastrophic.
We here at MAC Safety thought it would be helpful to provide some natural disaster preparedness tips for the businesses we work with every day. Although our clients in Pittsburgh and the New England area may feel far removed from the threat of a hurricane, earthquake, or wildfire, storm cycles and mother nature, in general, are becoming increasingly unpredictable. The threat of tornadoes, flooding, fires, and disruptive winter storms are very real in our region. The best time to respond is before they even take place.
It’s a matter of preparing a plan for business continuity and workplace safety and putting it in place. This kind of preparation is key to weathering the storm and recovering in its aftermath. Some well-placed attention and effort right now can minimize damage, ensure worker safety, and help mitigate business disruption once disaster hits.
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has recommended five basic steps to preparing your workplace for a hurricane or other natural disaster.
1. DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
OSHA requires many businesses to have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place. This plan has a thorough evacuation plan. Specified are the conditions in which it’s activated, establishing a chain of command, emergency functions to be performed, who performs them, evacuation procedures (routes, exits), how to account for all personnel, customers, and visitors, and equipment operation/shutdown protocols.
Even if your business isn’t required to implement an EAP, it’s important to assess how you’d keep your business operating through a natural disaster. You should consider the following:
- Backing Up Business Critical Data & Applications
- Protecting Site Facilities & Equipment
- Operating Remotely if Facility Becomes Inaccessible
- Establishing an On-Site Support Plan to Ensure Business Continuity
- Securing a Recovery Services Provider
- Declaring Emergency Status Sooner Rather than Later
- Implementing an Effective Communications Strategy
- Always Bracing for the Unexpected
Hospitals, in particular, have a number of different challenges. All of the above-mentioned items remain important, but hospitals have to prepare for patient overflow, have an evacuation plan in place for patients, and develop critical partnerships they can rely on during the event. For instance, triages may need to be set up for emergency care if there’s patient overflow or a necessary evacuation at the hospital. They’d want to partner with community centers, local schools, or the municipal building in this case.
Structural protection is also important. Especially pre-storm. Windows or glass doors will need to be boarded up. Any people, items, and equipment near any windows or doors should be moved.
Supply inventories need to be checked.
Backup power generators need to be checked to ensure they have adequate capacity to power medical equipment and AC units. Since generator failure is quite common in these situations, make sure there’s at least 7 to 10 days of fuel for generators, repair parts, or redundant systems in place.
Secure or anchor down anything that has the potential to become flying debris.
Turn off non-essential electrical equipment or shutting off gas to reduce the risk of fire or explosion.
2. DETERMINE PROCEDURES & INDIVIDUAL CRISIS MANAGEMENT RESPONSIBILITIES
Obviously, when there’s warning of an impending disaster, not every employee has to be on-site that day. Establish what personnel are essential to business operations and whether they need to be on-site or off-site.
Areas of accountability and responsibility have to be clearly communicated to designated managers and staff. Particularly when it comes to effectively carrying out crisis management and emergency-response duties.
3. COORDINATE WITH LOCAL BUSINESSES & EMERGENCY RESPONSE SERVICES
Talk to other businesses in your area as well as local police, fire departments, EMTs, hospitals, and utility companies. It’s important that everyone is aware of who is where. Everyone needs to be on the same page as the storm or event nears.
It’s also recommended that you talk to suppliers, shipping companies, and others you regularly do day-to-day business with.
4. MAKE SURE EMPLOYEES ARE PREPARED
A plan only works if it is fully understood by employees. Any natural disaster preparedness plan needs to be clearly communicated with all personnel and staff. Everyone needs to understand their roles, individual or team responsibilities, and the expectations for every employee.
Designate a disaster team and then have a team designated to back that team up. It’s best that these teams be representative of a diverse range of employees. Designated leaders need to understand they’re empowered to make complex decisions in the face of unanticipated scenarios. All teams need to be regularly updated regarding the plan and their role.
5. REVIEW EMERGENCY PLANS ANNUALLY
Nothing remains the same. Make sure you assess your emergency plans every year. Changes to your business or within your region will affect any natural disaster response plan. Alterations to your plan need to be made each year in response to such changes.
ABOUT MAC SAFETY
MAC Safety Consultants, Inc. is a full-service safety consulting company committed to providing a range of cost-effective safety solutions ranging from consultations to staffing services to drug/alcohol testing. We offer completely customizable business solutions addressing the specific needs of each individual client. Our objective is to help your company cultivate a safety culture where worksite safety practices are promoted and workplace injuries or illnesses are minimized.
Visit us online at http://macsafetyconsultants.com. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, call us today at 724-847-3331. If you’re in the New England region, you may reach us at 617-855-8377.