In Case of Emergency

Business Second

Once you've figured out how to keep your people safe, you'll need to make sure your business survives as well. That means implementing a plan that addresses your key business functions, who's responsible for them, and what equipment or services you'll need to keep running.

"Gather your managers in some quiet place and say 'OK, you come to work one morning and, for whatever reason, the building is wrapped in yellow caution tape and you can't get in,'" says Laye. "Ask them 'Who are your key people, and what do they need to keep the business running?'" Laye adds that key employees aren't always the top executives; at insurance companies, for example, some of the most important people work in the mailroom.

The next step? Ask your managers to predict what could go wrong and how the company should respond in each case, says Bruce Blythe, CEO of Crisis Management International in Atlanta and author of Blindsided: A Manager's Guide to Catastrophic Incidents in the Workplace.

"Most crises don't come out of the blue," explains Blythe. "They're predictable. You can sit down and write out 80 percent of the things that are likely to happen based on your business. If you run a retail operation with cash registers, you've got to think about armed robberies. If you're an oil company, you need to worry about spills or helicopters going down. With chemical companies, it's explosions."

After the initial meetings, establish a crisis-management team, selecting members with expertise in all areas of the company. Unlike the emergency response teams, which serve to ensure employee safety, the crisis team deals with the aftermath of the event--how to keep the business going and back to normal as quickly as possible.

Larger organizations should create many recovery teams built around job functions--one for management, another for administration, and so on for each department, says Roger Peters, managing director of consulting firm RSM McGladrey Inc.'s business continuity planning services, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Each team should document the company's operating procedures and every person have a backup trained to take over in case he or she is incapacitated, Peters adds. Coordination across departments is essential and must be in place prior to a disaster to be successful.

"Small businesses typically run lean," says Peters. "There's not a lot of backup or duplication. They need to look at things like cross-training, having their people learn other skills or identify procedures so they can step into someone else's shoes."

Wreaking Havoc
DISASTER
Hurricane Lili

Wildfires

Tornado

Winter storm

Terrorist attack

DATE
Oct. 2002

June 2002

April 2002

Jan. 2002

Sept. 2001

LOCATION(S)
Louisiana, Missouri

Arizona

Maryland

Midwest

New York City, Washington, DC

DAMAGE
$335 million

$120 million

$700 million

$265 million

$18 billion

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This article was originally published in the April 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In Case of Emergency.

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