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Averting disaster Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

At some point, your business will be affected by a man-made or natural disaster. In the rapidly evolving technological environment, normal business operations will be increasingly interrupted by equipment failures operation errors or power outages. Accidents, illness, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods also wreak havoc on those unprepared.

The first step in averting disaster is to anticipate the types of business interruptions that could affect your company. Then establish a workable disaster blueprint to deal with them.

Start by asking these questions:

  • What are the primary functions critical to our mission?

  • How are these functions vulnerable to interruption?

  • How can we address these factors?

The initial focus for any disaster plan should be the safety of employees. Data can be recouped, structures rebuilt and equipment replaced, but human suffering is not as easily remedied. Personal well-being plans include arranging for first aid and CPR classes provided through local emergency officials and requiring all employees to participate.

This type of proactive planning paid off almost immediately for a computer company I worked with a few years ago. Within a week of receiving Red Cross training, a speeding motorcycle careened off the road, flinging the driver into a key employee in the company's parking lot, seriously injuring both and damaging company property. Staff used the basic knowledge gained through these classes to provide critical care until paramedics arrived.

As part of the personnel component, it's also important to develop an emergency contact tracking system for each employee. One I initiated included telephone numbers of family, personal friends and physicians to be contacted in the event of an emergency, special medical concerns and specific preferences employees had regarding their care.

When an employee became increasingly disoriented, then fell to the floor and went into seizures, the information proved invaluable. By having immediate access to emergency contact records, it was ascertained this employee was both diabetic and epileptic. By following the instructions on the form, implementing basic first aid techniques and calling 9-1-1, the staff stabilized a condition which was life threatening for the employee.

Another important element in a business disaster plan is a complete asset inventory schedule, including photos or videotapes of all equipment and furniture, fixtures and products. Consistently update the list when purchasing or selling assets and provide it to off-site accountants and insurance companies. This can expedite the process of substantiating and recouping losses.

During routine on-site inspections, determine which equipment requires maintenance on a continuing basis and prepare a calendar to schedule and insure tasks are completed. Preventive maintenance can be as simple using equipment covers, routinely backing up electronic files and copying paper documents, or as complex as installing uninterruptible power sources and automatic sprinkler systems or modifying existing buildings

A company I consult with invites the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation on site annually to offer, at no cost, recommendations for workplace safety. Advice offered by the bureau and implemented by the company includes posting hazardous chemical communications, such as Material Data Safety Sheets for easy access in the event of an accidental spill or misuse, and establishing written programs and training for employees on certain equipment.

During a thunderstorm, lightning struck the facility, effectively rendering the business nonoperational for more than a day. There were no physical injuries and equipment damage was contained largely based upon the suggestions offered by the bureau for modifying components of the electrical wiring and related systems.

Essential to my own disaster planning are ongoing consultations with my attorney, accountant, financial planner and insurance agent. I also store copies of valuable records off-site so they will be available in the event of a calamity.

Preparing for the probability of business interruptions is sound business management. While minimal down time and service interruption will not dramatically interfere with providing products and services, establishing a disaster plan calmly and objectively places you in control of the situation instead of allowing disasters to control your business. Nancy Duffee (NSDCoach@aol.com) is a professional coach, workshop facilitator and owner of Integrated Solutions in Central Ohio.