It's September again, which means it's National Preparedness Month. This year's theme is "Prepared, Not Scared," but as a business or contractor, how does any of this affect you? While much of the disaster preparation information out there involves families and individuals, there are steps you can take so that your business and livelihood is safe.
The federal government estimates almost 40% of small businesses don't reopen after a weather-related disaster and the road to recovery can be long and challenging. Whether it's a chemical spill down the street or a bad winter storm, emergencies disrupt businesses and cost money. Preparing in advance can help you keep your employees and your customers safe but also save you money and time.
Emergency response plan
Every business should have an emergency response plan. You can use OSHA's online tool to determine if you legally need an Emergency Action Plan or EAP, but all businesses should have an emergency response plan.
1. Your first step is to conduct a risk assessment so that you know what potential emergency scenarios could occur. Potential emergency scenarios mean both natural and manmade, including a hazardous material spill, a suspicious package, a utility interruption, a robbery, an earthquake, hurricane, flash flood, and so forth. This risk assessment table may be helpful as you're brainstorming. The risks you face will depend on your location, your operations, your industry, and the time of year. In certain industries, someone may become trapped underneath machinery, injured in a vehicle crash, exposed to hazardous materials, and so forth. A customer could lose their child or your firm could be infected with malware. Be sure to think beyond the obvious emergencies and consider what is realistic for your business.
2. Next you should assess the resources available to you in the case of an emergency. Resources include people, systems, and equipment both within your business and from elsewhere. What gaps do you have? For example, if you suddenly lose power to your building, do you have or need flashlights, radios, walkie talkies, etc? If a customer has a heart attack, do you have an AED? Do you have an alert system to warn all employees in the case of emergency or do you need to find another way to communicate to all employees? Talk to your local police office and fire department to find out what resources they recommend.
3. Create protective actions for life safety and threat-specific emergency procedures. Where should everyone shelter in place? What are the evacuation routes? What happens during a lock down? Make sure emergency exits are clearly marked, identify an assembly area if the building is evacuated, and determine if you need an evacuation team that assists in evacuations, ensures everyone is accounted for at the assembly area, and so forth. Create a shelter-in-place plan that warns everyone to move away from windows and to move to the core of the building and make sure you choose the right location to seek shelter. Consider the threat-specific emergencies you may face and create any necessary procedures. For example, if you run a daycare facility, you may need to create an action plan for a child abduction or if you have a construction company, you may need to create an action plan for a structure collapse.
4. Train all personnel, practice for emergencies, and update your plans regularly. What training do you and your employees have and what training may be worth considering? Determine if you have employees who are able to administer first aid, CPR and AED and consider having all employees trained. All employees should be trained in the system that alerts them to evacuate, shelter, or lockdown and drills should be practiced to keep everyone familiar with protocol. Assign roles to maximize your efficiency and potentially save lives. For example, you should have someone immediately alerting the proper authorities while someone else ensures all employees and customers are accounted for. Consider the training you may need for your specific industry (hazardous materials, firefighting, etc). Leaders should also have a higher level of training. Learn more about the potential types of training for you and your employees here. Make sure to regularly review your action plans and risk assessments, as you may find a new service or product means new risks.
5. Don't forget laws and regulations. While it is always good to go above and beyond when it comes to safety, you should determine what laws and regulations you absolutely must follow.
Feeling overwhelmed? FEMA has a comprehensive template for your emergency response plan. Find it here.
If you're an independent contractor working on the road or you work from home, your emergency response plan will be slightly different, but the same steps apply. You should create a plan that fits your particular business and accounts for the different scenarios you encounter. Make sure you consider whether or not you will be alone if an emergency occurs. If you need to call for help and you're at a job site far from emergency services, incorporate the added wait time into your emergency response plan.
Have an office go bag for emergencies. Items you may want to consider having include backups of important information, insurance policy numbers, first aid supplies, office calendar, employee contact information, finance records, book of passwords, and so forth. Ensure every employee knows where this bag is and decide who is responsible for it. Incorporate the go bag into any training or drills you do (fire drill, shelter in place drill, etc).
If you're a contractor without a typical office, consider having a virtual go bag that includes your insurance policies, your calendar, finance records, etc. somewhere secure online.
Have emergency supplies. You may be able to shut down operations in advance of some emergencies, such as a bad storm, but with other emergencies you will have no advanced notice, such as an intruder in the building. Having emergency supplies is important for those unexpected scenarios. You should have a first aid kit, water, food, a battery powered radio with extra batteries, a whistle or means of signaling for help, and anything else you may need if forced to shelter in place for an extended period of time. Depending on the threat and depending on your industry, dust masks may be needed if the air is dangerous, and supplies to section off a room, such as duct tape and tarps, could also be useful. Refer to the risks you identified in your risk assessment when considering what supplies you should have. If your building is large or spread out, have emergency supplies in more than one area.
Review your insurance. What scenarios are covered and which ones are excluded? Don't assume all events will be covered. You often need separate insurance for earthquakes and flooding. You may also need separate insurance for terrorism. In the case of an emergency, what are your deductibles? What are your limits and are they sufficient? Insurance can make a world of difference when there's an emergency, but it has to be the right insurance. Your building should have flood coverage, the cost of which will vary depending on the building and its contents. Yes, even in New England you are at risk for flooding and this includes those without oceanfront property. See FEMA's guide for five ways you can lower your flood insurance premium.
Regularly inspect your workplace. This means checking doors and windows, your roof, your emergency exits, the area surrounding your building, storm drains, air intakes, etc. You should also inspect any machinery you have. Consider your emergency plan when conducting these inspections. If your plan is to have everyone shelter in the back storage room, but you've filled it with materials for your next product launch, this isn't going to work.
Plan for after the emergency. If you need to close down for a few days, you should know what will happen. What is required to keep your essential operations running? Who are your essential personnel? Which contractors will you call if you need building repairs? How will you communicate to your customers any changes to operations? Don't forget to consider your finances as a business owner. How many days could you afford to close your doors if needed? Will your insurance cover the value to replace your equipment or only give you actual cash value? What expenses will you potentially have while doors are closed (loan payments, regulatory fines, etc.) Think about the steps you would need to take to recover your business following different events and determine if you need business interruption insurance.
Planning for an emergency can seem overwhelming at first, but start with the emergency response plan and build from there. Create a schedule of trainings, drills, and inspections to ensure you regularly review what is needed. If your business is large enough, assign different tasks to different employees to lighten your load. Regardless of the work, keeping everyone safe and preparing for an emergency should be high on your priority list. Doing the work ahead of time could mean the difference between your business surviving a disaster and having to close your doors forever.