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Planning, coping, and recovery resources when tragedy strikes.

Every Business Should Have an Emergency Plan (Part 1)

Preparing makes good business sense.

How quickly your company can get back to business after a terrorist attack or tornado, fire, or flood often depends on emergency planning done today. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working hard to prevent terrorist attacks, the regular occurrence of natural disasters demonstrates the importance of being prepared for any emergency. While recognizing that each situation is unique, your organization can be better prepared if it plans carefully, puts emergency procedures in place, and practices for all kinds of emergencies.

This information outlines commonsense measures business owners and managers can take to start getting ready. A commitment to planning today will help support employees, customers, the community, the local economy, and even the country. It also protects your business investment and gives your company a better chance for survival.

Plan to stay in business.

Business continuity planning must account for both man-made and natural disasters. You should plan in advance to manage any emergency. Be prepared to assess the situation, and use common sense and available resources to take care of yourself, your coworkers, and your business's recovery.

Continuity Planning

Risk assessment can be a sophisticated area of expertise that ranges from self-assessment to an extensive engineering study. Your organization's risk needs will vary according to the specific industry, size, scope, and location of your individual company. Start by reviewing your business process flowchart, if one exists, to identify operations critical to survival and recovery. Carefully assess your internal and external functions to determine which staff, materials, procedures, and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating. You should also establish procedures for succession of management.

Include coworkers from all levels in planning and as active members of the emergency management team. Make a list of your most important customers, and proactively plan ways to serve them during and after a disaster. Also identify key suppliers, shippers, resources, and other businesses you must interact with on a daily basis. A disaster that shuts down a key supplier can be devastating to your business.

Plan what you will do if your building, plant, or store is not accessible. Talk with your staff or coworkers, and frequently review and practice what you intend to do during and after an emergency. Just as your business changes over time, so do your preparedness needs. Review and update your plans at least annually and inform your employees of the changes.

Emergency Planning for Employees

Your employees and coworkers are your business's most valuable asset. Two-way communication is central before, during, and after a disaster. Include emergency information in newsletters, on your company intranet, and in periodic employee e-mails or other communication tools. Designate an out-of-town phone number where employees can leave an "I'm OK" message in a catastrophic disaster. If you have employees with disabilities or special needs, ask them what assistance, if any, they require.

Emergency Supplies

When preparing for emergency situations, it's best to think first about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air, and warmth. Encourage everyone to have a portable emergency supply kit customized to meet their personal needs, such as the inclusion of essential medications. Talk to your coworkers about what emergency supplies the company can feasibly provide, if any, and which ones individuals should consider keeping on hand. Recommended emergency supplies include water; food; both a battery-powered radio and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio with an alert function; extra batteries; a flashlight; first aid kit; whistle; wrench or pliers to turn off utilities; filter mask, plastic sheeting, and duct tape in the event of airborne chemical hazards; and moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

Keep copies of important records such as site maps, building plans, insurance policies, employee contact and identification information, bank account records, supplier and shipping contact lists, computer backups, emergency or law enforcement contact information, and other priority documents in a waterproof, fireproof portable container. Store a second set of records at an off-site location.

Planning to Stay or Go

Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the disaster, the first important decision after an incident occurs is whether to shelter in place or evacuate. You should understand and plan for both possibilities in advance by developing clear, well-thought-out plans.

In any emergency, local authorities may or may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should monitor television or radio news reports for information or official instructions as they become available.

Make an evacuation plan.

Some disasters will require employees to leave the workplace quickly. The ability to evacuate workers, customers, and visitors effectively can save lives. If your business operates out of more than one location, establish evacuation procedures for each individual building. If your company is in a high-rise building, an industrial park, or even a small strip mall, it is important to coordinate and practice with other tenants or businesses to avoid confusion and potential gridlock.

Make a shelter-in-place plan.

There may be situations when it's best to stay where you are to avoid any uncertainty outside. There are other circumstances, such as during a tornado or chemical incident, when specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. You should understand the differences and plan for all possibilities. More information can be found here: Link opens in a new window

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Ready. (Updated 2014, May 1). Every business should have a plan: Emergency preparedness materials (families, pets, seniors, disabled, businesses). Retrieved October 9, 2019, from

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