Emergency plan vital

A SERIES of short practical articles on keeping our businesses going during and following a disaster.

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 business continuity following an emergency or disaster — part one.

While the 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 — 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 — truly 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.

Researchers in Christchurch, New Zealand after the 2010/2011 earthquakes, found that the most important factor in the survival of businesses after an emergency was the quality of the relationships owners had with their staff, customers and suppliers before the event!

Here are 12 easy steps to ensure your business is prepared to get through a disruption and get up and running again as quickly as possible — talk them through with your team and amend your planning activities — turn them into a business continuity plan. Do not wait for an emergency — it is too late then! Remember that failing to plan is planning to fail.

Before you start make sure that you and your staff all have an emergency plan for yourself and your family — if you are not at home if there is an emergency would your children know what to do? In an emergency event it is natural to expect that the first priority of your staff will be checking on the wellbeing of their family members.

Step 1 Your core products and/ or services

What are the few key products/ services which are fundamental to the survival of your business — prioritise the three most important that are needed to keep the business operating.

Step 2 Essential roles and skills

There are tasks in your business that are fundamental to the delivery of the core products/ services identified in step 1. Identity the tasks essential to delivering them and the people capable of carrying out those tasks.

Step 3 Essential equipment

Identify the tools and equipment (including computer hardware and software) needed to deliver your core products/ services. What options do you have for getting replacement equipment? If you rely on specialist equipment how long would it take to get a replacement?

Step 4 Essential supplies

Identify the resources and supplies needed to create and deliver your core products/ services. What supply options do you have? Are there alternative supplies you could use?

NOTE: If you identify key people, equipment or supplies without alternatives, these are risks to your business and need to be addressed. How can you reduce your risks? Maybe start by making sure that staff are trained to provide back-up for different roles.

Step 5 Relocation options

Are there any possible options where you could relocate your business? Could you share premises with others?

Step 6 Insurances

Consider what insurances are available and whether they will help improve the chances of your businesses’ survival in the event of a disruption

Step 7 Delegation of authority

If the owner is unable to run the business and make key decisions, someone needs to be able to step into their role. Identify one or two people who you would trust to run the business in your absence and make sure they have access to the information they need (e.g. to pay bills, wages etc.). Think about creating a Sensitive Business Information Register.

Step 8 Contact details

Make sure all relevant contact details are kept accessible — include staff, key customers, key suppliers, providers of alternative options, bank, insurance, utilities.

NOTE: During a disruption keep everyone informed — staff and customers — make sure they all know what is going on.

Step 9 Back up your business records

Identify your methods for backing up your business records and include login details and passwords. Make sure your computer data is backed up regularly. If you use a portable hard drive make sure you take it home every day!

Step 10 Save this plan

Make sure your business continuity plan is available to all key staff — on computer, wall, online, mobile phone!

Step 11 Emergency preparedness planning

Make sure everyone is aware of emergency procedures for the business (e.g. fire exits, evacuation and assembly points, emergency supplies) and for their homes and families. Talk about them in meetings

Step 12 Practice the plan

Everyone in the business must understand the business continuity plan and their role during a disruption.

The best way for people to remember the plan is to practice it and then review it together! Then revise the plan. Although a disruption could be a serious threat to your business it could also be seen as an opportunity to innovate or collaborate. How could your business grow from this experience?

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.

Over the next few weeks I will look at each step in much more detail.

* 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 and 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 chris@breadfruitconsulting.com or text to +6785500556.

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