Every effective disaster-recovery program begins with a simple step, explains John Laye, an adjunct instructor at FEMA's Emergency Management Institute and author of Avoiding Disaster: How to Keep Your Business Going When Catastrophe Strikes. "You need to recognize that your employees are your most vital asset," Laye says. "The next step is to prepare employees by saying 'We want to protect your paycheck and our business, and [we] need you to be involved.'"
He urges companies to hold seminars for employees on how to prepare themselves and their families for potential disasters, and to set up emergency response teams of four or five employees--at least one team for every floor of the building the company occupies--trained in CPR, first aid, basic firefighting and evacuation procedures. Much of this information and training is available for free from the American Red Cross and local fire departments, Laye adds.
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And while the fire department is training your personnel in CPR, ask them to visit your office and assess potential hazards and evacuation routes. Then invite the police to come by and evaluate your company's physical security. This has two added benefits: If you ever have a real emergency, firefighters and police will be familiar with the layout of your building; they'll also know the team leaders to contact when they need briefing.
Laye recommends running practice drills twice a year--more often if your business has a high turnover rate--to improve your emergency response teams' ability to go it alone if you are caught in a natural disaster. "In an earthquake or tornado, this practice really pays off because the fire department isn't coming," says Laye. "They're going to day-care centers, nursing homes and hospitals, not individual businesses."