3 Rs of Emergency Response for your Business: Ready, Respond and Return

3 Rs of Emergency Response for your Business: Ready, Respond and Return

As a small business owner, it’s important to understand that when disasters strike, lack of preparedness can not only mean a loss of money, productivity and business assets, but it can also mean the difference between life and death. 

An emergency can be defined as any set of unplanned circumstances that puts people, property or the environment at unacceptable risk. When that risk escalates to the point where it can cause significant damage to your company, it can be considered a crisis and is something that all companies should try to minimize in order to maintain business continuity.  To reduce the risk of damage to both people and property, businesses must plan in advance for any emergency that can negatively affect their company.

One tool that can be helpful to small businesses is to think of the 3 Rs of emergency response, which refer to the phrase “Ready, Respond and Return.” By understanding all aspects of disaster response, companies can prepare for anticipated emergencies, respond in the event of an unplanned incident and then return to normal business operations. There are several ways in which this can be achieved.

The first step in preparing for any emergency is to understand potential risks that may affect your business.  By creating the necessary infrastructure within your company, employees are then capable of responding to any crisis, whether it be an earthquake, flood, hurricane or security risk.  The most important tool for any company is to create an emergency response plan. This document outlines the key people who can make decisions, emergency numbers to call, the response team to provide first aid assistance, and any key items that will be needed to aid in managing the emergency.

Businesses should consider the
use of a response team with a clear leader- this person should be called because they are capable of making
the decisions that are in the best interests of both persons and property for
the company.  Usually, the head of the
company acts as the head of this team, but the most vital factor when choosing
this individual is to ensure that the person in charge can make important
financial and business decisions in an emergency.  The team can also consist of financial, safety
and operational members of the company who can provide support and critical
knowledge.

The emergency response plan should document these key personnel, their phone numbers and any contact information required should the emergency occur outside of normal business hours.

Listed in the plan should also be emergency contact numbers for response agencies in the area of operation of the business. These numbers can be extracted easily from the plan and posted up for all employees to see in the office.  It is often the case that due to the heightened tensions brought on by the emergency, employees may forget these numbers. It is therefore beneficial to have a readily available list that can easily be viewed by all persons in the office.

All plans should include the
steps that should be taken in the event
of an emergency.  Some steps are
applicable to all situations, for example:

A key consideration that is often overlooked during emergencies is that normal lines of communication may not operate.  It is often the case that cell phones and internet sites are not operable, landlines and telephone poles are downed or destroyed during hurricanes and earthquakes, and it is impossible to physically reach both employees and businesses during and after a storm.  Companies may want to consider the use of phone trees and if possible emergency radios as a means to communicate with members of the company.

Once key personnel are identified,
they should be trained in first aid
response and emergency response. 
However, all employees should be trained
in the company’s emergency response procedures. 
First aid training not only teaches employees what to do in case of
emergency, but employees often find that being trained lessens the panic that
arises in the first moments of an
unexpected disaster.

For companies with critical
electronic information, it cannot be stressed
enough that all data should be backed up to an offsite location so that the
continuity of business operations does not solely rest on the accessibility of
an office site.  Should a disaster strike, it may not be
possible to access offices for days and in some cases may result in the complete destruction of building
infrastructure. Should this happen, business operations may be up and running over the course of several days instead of
months where physical assets are not a vital part of the company’s day to day
operations.

All companies should invest in
fire protection for their offices, but most importantly, all employees should be trained on how to use these tools.  Fire extinguisher training should be carried
out at least once a year to remind employees on how to use these devices
effectively. Buildings should be up to code and where possible automated
sprinklers should be installed to minimize fire damage to equipment.  If the business employs chemicals in its
daily operations, where possible these should be kept in a fireproof cabinet to minimize the spread and impact of fire.

Drills must be conducted
regularly with employees so that they know how to respond to various emergency
scenarios.  For example, earthquake drills can include protocols on sheltering in
place and/or subsequent evacuation from
unsafe buildings, while meetings or drills
can be held with employees to test their knowledge on communication procedures
and the location of emergency response devices in the building.

Specific considerations should be taken for hurricanes such as:

Pre-season preparations:

In the event of a storm:

The response to an emergency varies depending on the disaster experienced, but the most important factor that should be considered is the notification of employees and external aid agencies during the incident.  Should there be an unexpected disaster, employees should contact both the key personnel on the disaster response chart as well as external agencies.

During emergencies it is often not possible to carry out extensive communications, therefore if employees know who to call in the event of an emergency, the task of communication can be delegated while employees manage the situation at hand.

Following any disaster, all persons should be aware of the dangers of injury or illness and where possible avoid traveling or moving around in disaster-struck areas that can have downed power lines, contaminated waters or potentially spilled chemical and other discharges.

Some other Business Considerations:

Small business owners should
understand that there is a realistic chance that they may be unable to access
their worksites or offices after a natural disaster has occurred. Owners are
recommended to consider setting up temporary facilities- for example at their
residence or in another worksite, hotel or other premises- until they are able to fully return to normal operations. 

Immediately following a disaster,
the team designated to manage emergency response of the company should carry
out a damage assessment where it is safe to do so.  This is
important as companies must avoid putting their employees at risk by allowing
them to return to a site that may not be safe. A site assessment is also
helpful in documenting potential insurance claims and can be written, voice recorded, photographed or
video recorded. This helps both for
insurance claims as well as enables companies to understand their future risks
should disaster strike again.  This will allow business to be better equipped
to weather a storm in the future.

Companies in need of financial
assistance may first contact FEMA to apply for immediate financial assistance. Companies may also be able to apply
for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan of up to $2 million if the following
criteria are fulfilled:

There are also special federal tax provisions to help businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, particularly if the federal government declared the location of the business to be in a major disaster area. Employees of an affected company may make use of Disaster unemployment assistance and flood recovery assistance if individuals become unemployed or their line of work interrupted as a result of a major disaster.

SBA Disaster Resources
The Small Business Administration can help provide
businesses with disaster assistance loans, programs, and resources to help you
recover from a disaster.

DisasterAssistance.gov
DisasterAssistance.gov delivers disaster relief information to people and
businesses from the U.S. Government before, during and after a disaster. The
website has over 70 forms of assistance from 17 federal agencies. You can apply for disaster assistance or check the progress of
your applications. To apply for disaster relief assistance, you can also call
1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

211 / United Way (SBA)
211 is a nationwide service for getting quick, detailed information and
referrals to critical health and disaster relief organizations in your area.

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3 Rs of Emergency Response for your Business: Ready, Respond and Return

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