Is Your Business Prepared for Survival?

by Thomas O'Neill III, Peoria County Board

September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, and after last year's tornadoes and extreme floods, many of us are taking steps to ensure our families are ready for disaster and our homes are better protected. But are similar steps being taken to protect your business? Small business owners invest a tremendous amount of time, money and resources into building a successful business. Wouldn't it be just as prudent, then, to plan and prepare for disaster to ensure it will survive?

Nearly one third of businesses fail to reopen following a major catastrophe. Business owners can do a lot to prepare for the impact a natural or man-made disaster can have on their biggest investment. Unfortunately, many do not take the time to develop the necessary continuity plans to maintain business functions or quickly resume them in the event of a major disruption. A continuity of operations plan (COOP) outlines procedures and tasks a business will follow in the event of disaster, and an organization’s resiliency—or continuity capability—is directly related to these preparedness activities.

Continuity capability is the ability to continue performing essential functions regardless of the current situation. It relies on four key components that are the foundation of continuity planning and program management: leadership, staff, communications and facilities. When developing a COOP, special attention should be paid to these four components to ensure your business continues to meet its mission during and after disaster.

  • Leadership. When planning for disaster, leaders in your business will help decide which aspects of the business are critical for maintaining operations. They will implement the plan when needed; therefore, continuity of leadership during crisis, especially in the case of senior positions, is essential to reassure staff of its ability to continue performing duties during disaster response and recovery.
  • Staff. By including staff in the process, business owners will gain a better understanding of what to expect from employees during disaster. How will they react if told to shelter in place? If ordered to evacuate, will they wait for the "all-clear" and return to work, or will they go home? Involving staff in the planning and practice phases will help them know their role in ensuring a resilient business.
  • Communications. Communicating is an everyday function that becomes absolutely essential during a crisis. Power and cellular service may be interrupted by disaster; therefore, identifying and testing the communication requirements necessary to maintain interoperability and redundancy with suppliers, other businesses and community partners is recommended.
  • Facilities. If possible, identify an alternative facility from which to operate in the event your current location is damaged during disaster.

We rarely get notified that a disaster or emergency is about to strike. Even with some lead time, multiple things can and probably will go wrong because every incident is unique and unfolds in unexpected ways. However, business owners are not helpless or at the mercy of all potential hazards. By dedicating a small amount of time and resources now to the development of continuity of operations plans, businesses can increase their resiliency to disaster. Practice the plan with your leaders and staff to give your business or organization the best possibility of success during and after a disaster. For assistance with developing a COOP, visit iBi