Centuries ago, in the time before electricity, the internet and siren’s song of American Idol, I was a Boy Scout. Or rather, I am an Eagle Scout. During these formative years that I, like many, were inoculated with the Scout oath, laws and the mental tattoo, “Be Prepared.” I went on to work with scouts during the summer, teaching Emergency Preparedness and survival skills.
And so, with what sometimes feels like a fanatical zeal, I plan contingencies. For everything. “What if there is traffic on this route? What if the client asks us to deliver early? What if my top performer decides to leave? Then what?”
In business the impact of the unknown “what if” question could be small, with no effect, or there could be significant consequences. Losses can be quantified financially, in terms of productivity, or perhaps damaged personal prestige.
Here’s the idea, if someone walked in from the gas company announcing a gas leak with the threat of explosion, what would you do? What if the problem can’t be resolved for three days? Could you work somewhere else? Are the tools, files, or resources you need easily relocated, or will you be up a creek? How would staff be notified? Could you still make money during this time?
You can’t plan for everything, but if you follow the guide below, you can prepare for many of the curve balls thrown your way.
1. Define critical systems. What are the essential tools for your business? Computers? A kitchen? Telephones? Transportation? Make a bare-bones list of the minimum number of things needed to successfully operate. Notice I didn’t say easily or comfortably – because we want to be ready for the worst of it. Start your planning there and anything above this line will seem easy.
2. Prioritize. Now that you have the list of essentials, list the in order of importance. At a large financial firm I worked with recently, it was critical to have customer data online all the time – even in the event of an emergency. Marketing data, such as their website or files for printed materials, could wait as long as 72 hours.
3. Document. Put your plan in writing including contact names and numbers, addresses of offsite resources or suppliers that will be able to help when things go wrong. If your plan relies on moving supplies or backing up data, make sure your plan includes who will be accountable for this task and how often they will do it. There's nothing worse than executing a contingency plan only to find that when you need it most, it's incomplete or missing altogether!
4. Keep a copy offsite. Copies of the emergency plan should be in the hands of key personnel both at work and at their homes. If anything happens in the middle of the night you could be shut out of your location and unable to reach the plan. Having offsite copies ensure that key people can get in contact and begin to activate the plan to get the business back up and running.
5. Test the plan. Don’t wait for something to happen! In conjunction with senior management test your plan at least once a year. Dream up different scenarios that designed to test critical parts of your plan to ensure that, should something happen, all of the resources needed to keep your business operating are available.
I wish you luck developing an Emergency Response Plan. If you have questions, or thoughts you’d like to share – not only do I appreciate the feedback, but it will help me with my merit badge!