Savvy businesses have budget plans and staffing projections because they can be forecast with a reasonable amount of certainty. But how does a business plan for the unexpected?
Natural disasters, severe weather, and other emergencies cannot always be predicted by reviewing data or studying market trends, yet they account for incidents that can force a small or medium sized business to close.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that 40% of these businesses close immediately after a natural disaster, and even if they do re-open, many are faced with very difficult times recovering after a disaster. Within one year, an additional 25% close permanently, and over 90% fail before the second anniversary of the disaster.
(These statistics and more can be found in this infographic published by FEMA).
These statistics don’t even begin to account for the personal impact that an emergency can have on the affected employees and communities, nor does it consider situations like violent assaults, chemical spills, or many other types of emergencies. It also doesn’t consider the injuries and fatalities that could result from the emergency. In short, emergencies can have disastrous repercussions for a business and the people whose livelihoods depend on that business.
In the United States, 20% of businesses spend no time maintaining the continuity plan. The disastrous effects of an emergency can be mitigated by proper safety management training and planning, bringing us back to the question – how do we plan for things that we can’t predict?
Part of the answer is changing how we think about emergencies. Too often, we think of them as something that “won’t ever happen to us.” This complacent approach can lead to major problems, though; if we don’t expect it to happen, then we don’t prioritize it as something that needs our attention. Instead, we need to plan for emergencies as incidents that will happen, not might, and prepare accordingly. This shift in thinking will provide the sense of urgency that will drive you to develop an effective plan. Not only does it help protect your people and your business from the direct effects of an emergency, but it is also the first step to complying with OSHA requirements and preventing potential citations.
First and foremost, it must be site and operation specific. That is, customized to the business’s operations, accounting for things such as the building layout, the materials used for operations, the operational procedures, and the resources available, including trained personnel. So there’s no quick search on the Internet for a one-size-fits-all emergency action plan; it must be customized to reflect all emergency situations and the potential hazards that could occur.
Some key components of an emergency action plan include:
Effective emergency action plans designate a specific job position to lead and coordinate emergency plans and evacuations. Emergency decisions cannot be made by a committee. Everyone needs to know who will lead during an emergency, and understand that the designated leader has the authority to make decisions that everyone needs to follow.
Chaos and panic can quickly cause an incident to escalate to catastrophic levels – don’t let it happen. Sounds easier said than done, right? Not really. People handle situations very well if they know what to do. And how do they know what to do in an unexpected situation? Training.
This is one of the most important features of an emergency action plan because without it, all of the other work and preparation is wasted. All personnel need to undergo safety management training so that they understand the emergency action plan, and know how to respond when necessary.
This isn’t a one-time deal, either. Refresher trainings reinforce the initial safety management training, and ensure that people understand what they need to do and how to do it. Re-trainings also need to happen if the emergency action plan changes, or if an individual’s responsibilities under the plan change.
The plan needs to be updated whenever an employee’s responsibilities under the plan change, when the configuration of the space changes (especially if new equipment is added or old equipment is removed), new hazardous materials are introduced, processes are added to the operations that could affect evacuation routes, or when specific actions become required because new hazards are introduced to the operations.
The final component to an effective emergency action plan is to review it regularly. At a minimum, the plan should be reviewed annually to ensure that it reflects current operations, and personnel, and that all hazards have been identified and addressed. Far too often, important contact information is not updated, so make sure that this becomes part of your regular review process.
Not every emergency can be prevented, but planning and training can prevent or minimize tragedies. By making sure that your emergency action plan is thorough and up-to-date, your company takes an important step to protect the lives and well-being of your employees, as well as ensuring that an emergency will not end your business.