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Small business emergency planning

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The SmallBusiness.com WIKI Guide to Small business emergency planning is a collaborative project created by users of the SmallBusiness.com WIKI. It provides an overview of basics related to this topic. Find more guides at The SmallBusiness.com WIKI Guides Hub.

Contents

[edit] Overview

Preparing for the unexpected is one aspect of running a small business that often gets overlooked. However, after such tragedies as the attacks of September 11, 2001 and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the need for such a plan is apparent. Know what kinds of emergencies might affect your company both internally and externally. Find out which natural disasters are most common in the areas where you operate. You may be aware of some of your community's risks; others may surprise you. Crises can be very specific to an individual company -- a fire, a crime, a product recall, or a health crisis, for example. Or, the crisis can involve a neighborhood, industry or region.

The following recommendations for emergency planning is provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which provides a wide array of information and resources for helping businesses plan for emergencies at the website.[1]

[edit] Emergency planning for employees

Your employees and co-workers are your business's most important and valuable asset. There are some procedures you can put in place before a disaster, but you should also learn about what people need to recover after a disaster. It is possible that your staff will need time to ensure the well-being of their family members, but getting back to work is important to the personal recovery of people who have experienced disasters. It is important to re-establish routines, when possible.

1. Two-way communication is central before, during and after a disaster.

  • Include emergency preparedness information in newsletters, on company intranet, periodic employee emails and other internal communications tools.
  • Consider setting up a telephone calling tree, a password-protected page on the company website, an email alert or a call-in voice recording to communicate with employees in an emergency.
  • Designate an out-of-town phone number where employees can leave an "I'm Okay" message in a catastrophic disaster.
  • Provide all co-workers with wallet cards detailing instructions on how to get company information in an emergency situation. Include telephone numbers or Internet passwords for easy reference.
  • Maintain open communications where co-workers are free to bring questions and concerns to company leadership.
  • Ensure you have established staff members who are responsible for communicating regularly to employees.

2. Talk to co-workers with disabilities. If you have employees with disabilities ask about what assistance is needed. People with disabilities typically know what assistance they will need in an emergency.

  • Identify co-workers in your organization with special needs.
  • Engage people with disabilities in emergency planning.
  • Ask about communications difficulties, physical limitations, equipment instructions and medication procedures.
  • Identify people willing to help co-workers with disabilities and be sure they are able to handle the job. This is particularly important if someone needs to be lifted or carried.
  • Plan how you will alert people who cannot hear an alarm or instructions.

3. Frequently review and practice what you intend to do during and after an emergency with drills and exercises.

[edit] Continuity planning

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. Start planning now to improve the likelihood that your company will survive and recover.

1. Carefully assess how your company functions, both internally and externally, to determine which staff, materials, procedures and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating.

  • Review your business process flow chart if one exists.
  • Identify operations critical to survival and recovery.
  • Include emergency payroll, expedited financial decision-making and accounting systems to track and document costs in the event of a disaster.
  • Establish procedures for succession of management. Include at least one person who is not at the company headquarters, if applicable.

2. Identify your suppliers, shippers, resources and other businesses you must interact with on a daily basis.

  • Develop professional relationships with more than one company to use in case your primary contractor cannot service your needs. A disaster that shuts down a key supplier can be devastating to your business.
  • Create a contact list for existing critical business contractors and others you plan to use in an emergency. Keep this list with other important documents on file, in your emergency supply kit and at an off-site location.

3. Plan what you will do if your building, plant or store is not accessible. This type of planning is often referred to as a continuity of operations plan, or COOP, and includes all facets of your business.

  • Consider if you can run the business from a different location or from your home.
  • Develop relationships with other companies to use their facilities in case a disaster makes your location unusable.

4. Plan for payroll continuity.
5. Decide who should participate in putting together your emergency plan.

  • Include co-workers from all levels in planning and as active members of the emergency management team.
  • Consider a broad cross-section of people from throughout your organization, but focus on those with expertise vital to daily business functions. These will likely include people with technical skills as well as managers and executives.

6. Define crisis management procedures and individual responsibilities in advance.

  • Make sure those involved know what they are supposed to do.
  • Train others in case you need back-up help.

7. Coordinate with others.

  • Meet with other businesses in your building or industrial complex.
  • Talk with first responders, emergency managers, community organizations and utility providers.
  • Plan with your suppliers, shippers and others you regularly do business with.
  • Share your plans and encourage other businesses to set in motion their own continuity planning and offer to help others.

8. Review your emergency plans annually. Just as your business changes over time, so do your preparedness needs. When you hire new employees or when there are changes in how your company functions, you should update your plans and inform your people.

[edit] 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 Kit customized to meet personal needs, such as essential medications.

1. NOAA weather radio

  • With tone-alert feature, if possible, that automatically alerts you when a watch or warning is issued in your area. Tone-alert is not available in some areas.
  • Include extra batteries.
  • It is recommended that you have both a battery-powered commercial radio and a NOAA weather radio with an alert function. The NOAA weather radio can alert you to weather emergencies or announcements from the Department of Homeland Security. The commercial radio is a good source for news and information from local authorities.

2. 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.

3. Talk to your co-workers about what emergency supplies the company can feasibly provide, if any, and which ones individuals should consider keeping on hand.

[edit] List of recommended emergency supplies

  • Water, amounts for portable kits will vary. Individuals should determine what amount they are able to both store comfortably and to transport to other locations. If it is feasible, store one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First Aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust or filter masks, readily available in hardware stores, which are rated based on how small a particle they filter
  • Moist towelettes for sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to "seal the room"
  • Garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

[edit] Fire Safety

Fire is the most common of all business disasters. Each year fires cause thousands of deaths and injuries and billions of dollars in damage.

  • Have your office, plant or facility inspected for fire safety; ensure compliance with fire codes and regulations.
  • Install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in appropriate locations.
  • Consider an automatic sprinkler system, fire hoses and fire-resistant doors and walls.
  • Establish a system for warning your employees. Plan how you will communicate with people with hearing impairments or other disabilities and those who do not speak English.
  • Put a process in place for alerting the fire department.
  • Plan and practice how people will evacuate in a fire.

[edit] Medical Emergencies

Workplace medical emergencies vary greatly depending on the disaster, type of job and the worksite. Heavy equipment operators face different safety risks than do office workers or food service personnel. Regardless of the type of work, there are steps which can give you the upper hand in responding to a medical emergency.

  • Encourage employees to take basic First Aid and CPR training. Offer on-site classes for your co-workers.
  • Keep First Aid supplies in stock and easily accessible.
  • Encourage employees to talk about medical conditions that may require support or special care in an emergency.
  • Keep employee emergency contact information on file and up-to-date. Store a copy with other vital records in your emergency kit and another at an off-site location.

[edit] Make an Evacuation Plan

Some disasters require employees to leave the workplace quickly. The ability to evacuate workers, customers and visitors effectively can save lives. People who plan and practice how they will get out of the building in an emergency are better prepared than those who do not have an exit strategy.[2]

  • If feasible, develop a system for knowing who is in your building, including customers and visitors, in case there is an emergency.
  • Decide in advance who has the authority to order an evacuation. Create a chain of command so that others are authorized to act in case your designated person is not available. If local officials tell you to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Identify who will shut down critical operations and lock the doors, if possible, during an evacuation.
    • Choose employees most able to make decisions that emphasize personal safety first.
    • Train others who can serve as a back-up if the designated person is unavailable.
    • Write down, distribute and practice evacuation procedures.
  • Locate and make copies of building and site maps with critical utility and emergency routes clearly marked.
    • Identify and clearly mark entry-exit points both on the maps and throughout the building.
    • Post maps for quick reference by employees.
    • Keep copies of building and site maps with your crisis management plan and other important documents in your emergency supply kit and also at an off-site location.
    • Make copies available to first responders or other emergency personnel.
  • Plan two ways out of the building from different locations throughout your facility.
  • Consider the feasibility of installing emergency lighting or plan to use flashlights in case the power goes out.
  • Establish a warning system.
    • Test systems frequently.
    • Plan to communicate with people who are hearing-impaired or have other disabilities and those who do not speak English.
  • Designate an assembly site.
    • Pick one location near your facility and another in the general area in case you have to move farther away.
    • Talk to your people in advance about the importance of letting someone know if you cannot get to the assembly site or if you must leave it.
    • Be sure the assembly site is away from traffic lanes and is safe for pedestrians.
  • Try to account for all workers, visitors and customers as people arrive at the assembly site.
    • Take a head count.
    • Use a prepared roster or checklist.
    • Ask everyone to let others know if they are leaving the assembly site.
  • Determine who is responsible for providing an all-clear or return-to-work notification. Plan to cooperate with local authorities responding in an emergency.
  • Conduct employee training, exercises and drills including procedures for evacuating high-rise buildings on a regular basis.
  • Plan for people with disabilities who may need help getting out in an emergency.
  • If your business operates out of more than one location or has more than one place where people work, 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.
  • If you rent, lease or share space with other businesses make sure the building owner and other companies are committed to coordinating and practicing evacuation procedures together.
  • Make a Shelter-In-Place Plan.

[edit] Making 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 a chemical incident when specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. You should understand the different threats and plan for all possibilities. If you are instructed by local authorities to take shelter, do so immediately. Here is advice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:

1. If feasible, develop a system for knowing who is in your building in case there is an emergency.
2. Establish a warning system.

  • Test systems frequently.
  • Plan to communicate with people with hearing impairments or other disabilities or who do not speak English.

3. Account for all workers, visitors and customers as people arrive in the shelter.

  • Take a head count.
  • Use a prepared roster or checklist.
  • In general, employees cannot be forced to shelter, however there are circumstances when local officials will order that everyone stay put. It is important to speak with your co-workers in advance about sheltering to avoid confusion and allow for cooperation in the event you need to shelter-in-place.

4. Assign specific duties to employees in advance; create checklists for each specific responsibility. Designate and train employee alternates in case the assigned person is not there or is injured.
5. Get emergency supply kits and keep them in your shelter locations.
6. Practice your shelter-in-place plan on a regular basis.

[edit] Where to Take Shelter During a Tornado Warning

1. Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection.
2. If underground shelter is not available, go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
3. In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
4. Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they attract debris.
5. Stay in the shelter location until the danger has passed.

[edit] Sealing a Room in Case of a Chemical Threat

If local authorities believe the air is badly contaminated with a chemical, you may be instructed to take shelter and "seal the room." The process used to seal the room is considered a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between your people and potentially contaminated air outside. It is a type of sheltering that requires preplanning. Here is advice on sealing a room from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

1. Identify a location to "seal the room" in advance.

  • If feasible, choose an interior room, such as a break room or conference room, with as few windows and doors as possible.
  • If your business is located on more than one floor or in more than one building, identify multiple shelter locations.

2. To "seal the room" effectively:

  • Close the business and bring everyone inside.
  • Lock doors, close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers.
  • Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced air heating systems.
  • Take your emergency supply kit unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
  • Go into an interior room, such as a break room or conference room, with few windows, if possible.
  • Seal all windows, doors and air vents with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Measure and cut the sheeting in advance to save time.
  • Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to seal gaps so that you create a barrier between yourself and any contamination.
  • Local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for official news and instructions as they become available.

[edit] Checklists and Templates

  • Emergency preparation checklists and templates from Ready.gov/business - PDF downloads

[edit] Reference

  1. Ready.gov/business/index.html
  2. U.S. Department of Homeland Security - Advice for evacuation planning

[edit] External links

  • Ready.gov/business - Information and resources from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

[edit] See also