“The prizes go to those who meet emergencies successfully. And the way to meet emergencies is to do each daily task the best we can.”

~William Feather

Emergency plans are not likely to be used. Nonetheless, having one is vital because you just do not know when or what kind of emergency will hit your organization. For those of us in hurricane territory, this is especially critical given the hurricane forecast for the remainder of this year.

When emergency planning, every organization’s first priority should be the health and welfare of its staff. However, during an emergency, your staff may be scattered all over the country—or even the world.

One of the first things a company should implement in its emergency plan is a toll-free hotline where messages can be left to update staff about the condition of the business and inform them what they should be doing. For example, should they be coming to work or staying home? Obviously, your plan should also include how you will get important information to the staff who is responsible for updating the hotline messages.

After staff is taken care of, the next concern is the organization’s data and information. The answer here is ensuring you have redundant servers located many states away from your business’ home state.

With staff and data protected, you then need to consider how you will update customers about the condition of the company. This can be very difficult as a serious emergency, like a natural disaster, may cause outages in television and telephone service, meaning normal media outlets could be useless. Your plan must address this by building in alternatives and workarounds based on what is available. For example, if television and email is down, you might have to use radio. Or you might arrange to send staff out to key customers to update them about your situation.

If you have a physical location, your emergency plan should include an alternate location where staff can work in the event your primary building is damaged or destroyed.

To ensure critical tasks are covered, your emergency plan should identify which members of your management team are responsible for which tasks. Your plan should also go one step further and identify a backup for each of these team members as well.

It is also important that the members of your emergency management team not only know their roles, but get ample opportunity to practice them at least once a year. Practicing your emergency plan is a great way to ensure your systems work well and/or show you where the holes are.

A simple simulation is the easiest way to practice your plan and ensure it covers all your bases and everyone knows their roles.

I remember when I was in the Air Force, we ran drills constantly to test our emergency plans. All of these numerous drills seemed to start at 3 a.m., but they worked. The more we drilled, the better we got at executing the plan.

To help you get started on your emergency plan, here is a simple one drafted by the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-101/emrgact/emrgact.pdf. Another great template can be found here: http://www.kapnick.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Emergency-Action-Plan-Template.pdf.

The important thing to remember about emergency plans is that, like all plans, they are living and breathing documents that need to be reviewed every year and revised as conditions warrant.

Now go out and make sure you have developed an emergency plan and practice it every year. As part of your plan, do everything you can to eliminate the possibility of those types of emergencies you have the power to avoid.

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Jerry Osteryoung
Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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