Hurricane season is the season of unpredictability, but an established emergency response ensures small business owners a level of control. We may be in hurricane season now, but it’s not too late to begin your preparations. If you are in an area frequented by storms, a plan can prevent financial loss, facility damage and organizational shutdowns.
An emergency response plan catered to a hurricane considers everything that could go wrong if your business is in an evacuation zone for a storm. Power outages, facility damage, supply chain shortage, employee loss and lack of access to your finances are all possible occurrences and should be addressed in your plan.
Every small business’s emergency response plan should include:
- A business continuity plan – Maintaining operational services is the main goal for any small business during a natural disaster. A business continuity plan establishes a process for continuing operations and identifies a disaster-recovery team of employees that know your business best. Those team members are assigned specific tasks and responsibilities to handle before and when disaster strikes. This plan includes a business impact analysis identifying the potential fiscal effects to the business if operational services cease.
Testing this plan is just as important as the development. Conduct quarterly walkthroughs and encourage employees to give feedback, ensuring all gaps are identified and remedied. Try randomly conducting these tests by not giving employees notice to see the rapidness of team members response and the understanding of their role in the operation.
Define your expectations for team performance before conducting random tests of your emergency response plan. What elements of the plan do you want to see performed first? Where do you want to see improvement during the hypothetical scenario? These expectations should be communicated continuously, especially when testing is random. Thorough testing involves leadership giving a clear, detailed scenario to operate under. Define where the storm is, the category of the storm, and projected path and damages.
- Alternative operational location – A back-up site should be determined. This location will be utilized to continue operations during the disaster. The facility should be 50 – 100 miles away from the current organization’s location to lower the chances of both locations being affected. This location should, ideally, have a generator, computers and other necessary technologies. Back up your data to this location’s database to ensure all necessary information is available to continue operations. A copy of the plan should be accessible to all employees.
Understanding what your alternative location needs requires operation managers to walk through fully operational facilities and identify necessities for every location. The same managers should visit the alternative location and ensure every necessity has a place well before the storm season.
- Employee communication plan – Establishing a tested plan for reliable methods and channels for employee communication is essential during a natural disaster. Know where your employees are located and if they are in an evacuation zone. Communicate your evacuation expectations beforehand so employees know exactly what is expected of them if they are forced to relocate.
Like everything in your emergency response plan, these communication methods need to be tested. Encourage employees to regularly check these channels and include instructions in onboarding materials for how to access.
- Vendor agreements – Communicating with your vendors before a storm removes any needless worry on both sides during hurricane season. Develop a document that includes all vendors and their emergency contact information. Set expectations ahead of time with customers so they are aware of what your emergency response plan includes. Contact all vendors as soon as the emergency plan is initiated and keep them updated on business operations.
The key to an effective emergency response plan for small businesses is to ingrain all factors into the culture and onboarding for the organization. Familiarizing employees with the plan on day one removes the worry of your team forgetting them when the plan is needed most. Be transparent with your team and emphasize the importance of this plan being successfully implemented in an emergency.
First Horizon Bank offers financial services that allow small businesses to brave any storm. We have products and services to prepare you for the potential financial impact of natural disasters. Preparation is key to coming out of this hurricane season stronger than ever. Ensure your business is protected by acting proactively.
Lawrence Hatch is the Central Florida market president for First Horizon Bank. Hatch and his team utilize and introduce a comprehensive suite of private wealth management and commercial banking solutions. He has worked in the financial services industry since 1999 as a Portfolio Manager, Wealth Advisor and Market president covering commercial, retail, private client, and music, sports and entertainment.