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Surviving an emergency

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A series of short practical articles on keeping our businesses going during and following a disaster — part four.

We are used to keeping our car or vehicle engines tuned, we top up the oil, we try not to run out of petrol, we keep them clean, we have our cars serviced — if we don't the vehicle breaks down, we use more fuel, it is inefficient, it will often let us down, it will not last as long, it will be a waste of money.

We need to apply the same thinking to our business.

If we don't tune up our business regularly we will lose money, we will lose staff, we will lose customers and market position, we will encourage our competitors to overtake us — we may even go out of business.

This will be especially true following an emergency or disaster.

During this short series of articles Chris Elphick takes us through a service check for our business.

Today the focus is on creating a business resilience action plan.

While the next cyclone season is here business owners have to be thinking ahead and asking ourselves one question — what can I do to be better prepared next time?

Because we live in the Pacific we know that extreme weather-related events, and other crises, are part of our business environment yet often our planning does not take these into consideration.

Also, business disasters are not only the well-publicised cyclones or tsunamis or earthquakes — fire destroys many businesses, health issues close many other, localised events can impact negatively on local businesses.

All business owners should be aiming to have resilient organisations.

Resilience is not just about getting through crises — resilient organisations do what they can to prevent potential crises emerging and they have the ability to turn crises into a source of strategic opportunity.

What is a business resilience action plan

In my last article in this series I looked at your business recovery plan which records what you will do after a disaster to continue to run your business.

The business resilience action plan records what you will do BEFORE there is a disaster, preferably as soon as possible, to make sure your business is more resilient, prevents disasters where possible, and is as prepared as possible to deal with a disaster if it happens.

Think about these areas and make notes:

Your priority products and/or services

Make a list of your products and / or services.

Which of these are priorities to maintain existing contracts and customer relationships, including within your local community, and also provide to new customers? Keep the list focused on essentials.

What products and/or services could you stop providing, even for a short time?

Priority tasks and key people

List the tasks that will be essential if you are to deliver the priority products and/ or services and identify the people capable of taking responsibility for these tasks.

Priority equipment

List the equipment that is essential to delivering your key products and/or services and the options available if this equipment is unavailable.

List the actions that you will take in the next three months to make your business more self-reliant in equipment in the event of a disaster.

Priority stock and resources and key suppliers

Make a list of the stock and resources that are essential to delivering your priority products and/ or services, suppliers, alternative supply options and alternative resources.

List the actions that you will take in the next three months, to make your business more self-reliant in priority stock and resources in the event of a disaster.

Priority customers

Make a list of your priority customers.

List the actions that you will take in the next three months, to find out more about what government departments or NGOs might buy from you in the event of a disaster, and to make connections with those organisations.

Priority property

In a disaster the property or properties you operate your business from may be destroyed, unsafe or inaccessible.

List all the possible options where you could relocate your business. Note any advantages and disadvantages associated with each option.

List the actions that you will take in the next three months, to make your property less vulnerable to destruction or damage in the event of a disaster.

Delegation of authority

List your essential business processes, who has authority for them now, and one or two people who you trust to have authority to run the business in your absence.

List the actions you will take in the next three months, to train and prepare someone to be able to take over from you in the event of a disaster.

You should seek advice from a lawyer about how to give someone legal powers to act for you .

Priority business records and systems

List your methods for backing up your business records and vital information.

List the actions you will take in the next three months, to put your business records and key information in good order, protect them from destruction or damage in the event of a disaster, and be available remotely.

Critical communications channels

List your usual communications channels, potential problems and alternatives.

List the actions you will take in the next three months, to have the best chance of having working communication channels in the event of a disaster.

Information, advice and assistance

List the organisations that will be most useful to you in the event of a disaster — e.g. NDMO, Chambers of Commerce, NGOs, industry and sector groups.

List the actions you will take in the next three months, to check on local disaster preparation and response plans, and find out more about which organisations can help you in the event of a disaster.

For information about insurance options, contact your industry organisation or local chamber of commerce.


List the businesses around you that you could help, and that could help you, in the event of a disaster.

List the actions you will take in the next three months, to work with other businesses around you, to make plans to help each other in the event of a disaster.

Immediate response — disaster response checklist

Can you say Yes to each of the statements below? If not, decide what actions you need to take to be able to say Yes to every statement.

• Our staff know where to evacuate to if there is a fire in the property;

• Our staff know the procedure when they feel an earthquake;

• Our staff know where to evacuate to when there is a tsunami warning or after feeling a long or strong earthquake;

• Our staff all have getaway kits at work in case they must evacuate in a hurry or cannot get home;

• Our business has stored supplies of fresh water and food;

• Our business has adequate first aid supplies;

• Emergency instructions for staff are prominently displayed; • We have at least one competent first aider; and

• Our staff have emergency plans for their own families.

Contact details

Keep all the contact details of critical people in more than one accessible location. Keep the information up to date.

You need contact information for:

• Employees and their families;

• Emergency services;

• Other local businesses you will work with;

• Bank;

• Insurance company;

• Priority customers;

• Key suppliers;

• Owners of alternative properties; and

• Utility services.

In the final article, I will summarise the approach I have outlined throughout this series and stress its importance to all businesses, especially to SMEs in how to be well prepared BEFORE a disaster strikes.

Breadfruit Consulting have produced Be Prepared — a step-by-step disaster resilience planning guide for Pacific Island businesses — please contact me if you would like a copy and details of the workshops we run around the guide.

* Chris Elphick is Partner in Breadfruit Consulting, formerly Learnfast Pacific, supporting the development of a range of businesses and organisations in Melanesia and other parts of the Pacific. He is an experienced trainer, coach and business mentor and has years of experience of working with Small & Medium Enterprises. He and his partner Hazel Kirkham live in Vanuatu.

If you have an issue or query related to this article, please contact Chris at or text to +6785500556.

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