How to Prepare Your Business for an Emergency

September is National Preparedness Month in the United States, an annual awareness campaign tasked with bringing attention and helping the public prepare for unexpected disasters and emergencies. Unfortunately, some emergency situations are just unavoidable. Millions of businesses are at risk of being affected by emergencies like hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and pandemics, or human-made events like accidents, acts of violence, or equipment failures.

Recently, emergency preparedness is more important than ever before. The coronavirus pandemic remains an ongoing and ever-changing threat worldwide. In the U.S., wildfires threaten the West Coast, while multiple hurricanes and tropical storms made landfall on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Businesses need to be proactive about disaster preparedness, as these events can threaten both the safety of employees and the integrity of the workplace. Having an emergency preparedness checklist and plan in place for a variety of scenarios is critical to safeguarding both your team members and business resources.

The more informed you are about how to develop the proper preparedness checklist and response plan, the more effectively you can minimize potential harm and best position your organization for recovery.

Step 1: Assess Risks and Threats

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, one in four businesses won’t reopen after a disaster. Preparation is often the deciding factor, but a business can’t prepare for an emergency that they decide to ignore. A business needs to be aware of the potential threats it faces, and not just the obvious ones. It’s necessary to identify as many adverse events as possible, even if the likelihood that they occur seems relatively low. The best way to define risk comprehensively is to seek out multiple perspectives from inside and outside your business.

Talk with your company’s leaders and employees. Gather their opinions on potential risks to your company, whether those are natural disasters or workplace hazards. Then you can bring in an environmental health and safety professional. An EHS expert can audit your business and tell you what risks you might be facing. This assessment serves as an investment in the organization’s long-term health.

Step 2: Create a Plan

Your emergency preparedness plan is your roadmap to recovery. It needs to be easily accessible to your employees and customized to suit your business’s unique needs, including critical operations that should receive priority attention if disaster strikes.

For each threat scenario, a customized, individual response strategy should be put in place. Different events call for different responses, and a catch-all plan can leave gaps. For example, your emergency preparedness checklist and response plan for a tornado have to be different from your active shooter response.

Each scenario-specific plan must include clearly defined roles and responsibilities for personnel, along with specific actions and time frames. Disaster response leaves no room for grey areas. Every individual within your business, who may be present at the time of emergency, must know what their action steps are and what they can expect from others.

Critical Processes to Consider

People are the core of any emergency response plan. Make sure that every strategy you develop touches on the following two elements:

1. Communication

Information is critical in an emergency. For each scenario, know the answers to the following questions:

How will you communicate for help? Make a list of the emergency responders, facility management contacts, and company partners that you’ll need to contact if/when an emergency strikes.

How will you notify your employees of an emergency? Specify who will send the message, what information it will contain, and what channel or channels it will travel through. Plans only succeed if the people involved know to execute them.

2. Training

Does your team need additional training to be emergency-ready? If disaster strikes, your business can save lives by ensuring employees are up-to-date on CPR and first aid training.

Resources at Your Disposal

Your emergency preparedness plan must be specific to your business, but you don’t need to start from scratch. Organizations like OSHA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have checklists and tips for how to respond to various events. These resources are a great starting point as a guide for creating your business’s emergency preparedness checklist.

Step 3: Take Action

Once you’ve created your plans, it’s best to take them to an EHS professional for review. Find out the potential oversights in your response strategies and get expert advice on how to create the most holistic plan. The insight from an EHS professional might be the protocol or procedure that protects an employee from danger or safeguards your critical systems.

Take time to finalize your emergency preparedness plans, then share them with your team. Don’t just send an email — use this opportunity as an education effort that reaches every team member from executives to entry-level employees. Start by articulating the importance of emergency procedures. If you can have a company-wide meeting or separate meetings with each team, do so. Ensure that everyone knows that emergency plans are critical to continuing safe operations.

Dedicate the appropriate amount of time to educating every team member about the response plans you’ve put in place, including:

  • What the company will do to keep them safe
  • How they can expect to receive important notifications
  • What their responsibilities are in case of an emergency

Finally, schedule real-life drills and tabletop exercises of your initial response plans. This gives everyone the opportunity to internalize their roles and know what to do before the event happens. Hold these drills semi-regularly so that the information stays fresh for all participants involved.

Preparing for an Emergency

The long-term health of your business depends on your having a strong emergency preparedness checklist and plan. Make sure your plan is as leak-proof as possible by investing in the services of an EHS professional.

YellowBird makes it easy to connect with qualified EHS professionals. Our platform will match you with a fully vetted expert who knows emergency preparedness, and whose qualifications suit your specific industry and business type. You work directly with the expert while we manage the communication and billing logistics. Get started today with YellowBird to connect with your best-fit EHS expert.