Your company’s operations can be disrupted in all kinds of ways, from a hurricane to an active shooter incident. Incident management involves planning for possible contingencies, responding to incidents as they happen and restoring normal business operations as soon as possible.
Here are five key steps to manage a potential business disruption incident successfully.
1. Get your site evacuation plan in place
Create a policy for determining when to evacuate your premises. A distinct notification system that’s clearly audible or visible should be standard.
Establish procedures for warning your customers, contractors and visitors. And test your warning system regularly.
Appoint evacuation wardens responsible for moving personnel and visitors to safety and accounting for them. Make sure your staff is trained on how to leave in an orderly manner. Also:
- Do they know how to escort customers and visitors to a safe location?
- Are evacuation routes clearly marked, unobstructed and wide enough to accommodate personnel quickly exiting your facilities?
- Are your procedures posted, widely disseminated and updated as needed?
- Do you have a designated assembly area where people can gather and be counted?
Keep an accurate, up-to-date list of your staff and their contact information. As part of your training, staff should know the check-in procedures if they are off-site or traveling.
Do you have a plan for further evacuation in case the incident expands? Work with your local and state governments to select the safest routes and ensure there’s transportation available and a safe place to go.
2. Coordinate response teams
Establish procedures for contacting your safety and facilities response team members. They, in turn, should contact fire and rescue personnel if needed. Your facilities manager should have access to detailed engineering plans for your building, including blueprints showing:
- Stairwells and elevators
- Doorways and windows
- Sprinkler systems
- Security systems
- Heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems
- Water lines and valves
- Electrical, gas and other utilities
Facilities management should also have access to emergency generators.
Your staff may need to shelter in place. You need to know ahead of time where the safest part of your building is, usually in a basement or interior room where there may be reinforced concrete. You should keep this space stocked with basic emergency supplies such as water, nonperishable food and first-aid kits.
Have a way to communicate with everyone in the building. Also, consider purchasing an Emergency Alert System radio. You can often subscribe to free text and email warnings for weather updates and news from your local police.
Different circumstances warrant different responses. A flood may necessitate moving to higher floors, while a tornado may mean moving to the basement and getting away from doors and windows.
Train your workforce on sheltering procedures and use spaces large enough to accommodate everyone in the building. You can find out more about emergency response plans at ready.gov/business.
3. Establish an incident management command center
Your incident commander is in charge of the command center, which may be in a safe location on your premises or off-site.
The command center will likely become your de facto headquarters during the crisis, so make sure it has a room where key decision-makers can meet. You may also need to have a place where reporters can receive briefings or pick up materials. The center should be equipped with computers and telecommunications equipment.
Ideally, your command center should have:
- A copy of your emergency procedures and business continuity plan
- A list of all of your employees, suppliers, service providers, utilities and other stakeholders with contact information
- An organizational chart
- A client or customer list with contact information
- Blueprints, floor plans, maps, etc.
- Facilities management information for first responders
- Building security system information
- Communications equipment, including emergency radios, telephones, walkie-talkies and cellphones
- Computer equipment and printers
- Wi-Fi and network connections
- Backup power
- Emergency supplies such as water, flashlights and first-aid kits
4. Ensure immediate communications
Communication will be an essential component of your command response. Consider who you’ll need to communicate with during a crisis. This includes emergency responders, utility providers, local government authorities, regulators, neighborhood businesses, civic groups and the media.
In addition, you should have a list of clients or customers you can contact in the event of a disruption. Staying in touch and assuring them that you’re still in business will be essential to your economic viability.
You may also need to be in touch with other local businesses or community groups to coordinate disaster response efforts, shelter space, medical assistance, food, water, etc. If you are a large employer in your community, you may be asked to assist in various ways.
5. Briefing employees, customers and the media
Disseminating information to the media and the public may become a central role of your command center. Your public relations team should have a plan for providing ongoing information to key stakeholders and the public.
You should be prepared for questions about:
- The health and safety of your workforce and the surrounding community
- The extent of the damage to your business
- Whether anyone has been hurt
- The cause of the incident
- How you’re responding
It’s the job of your public relations team and spokesperson to maintain a positive relationship with the media and respond promptly to their queries. Your designated spokesperson should be trained on how to interact with the media and have access to the latest information about the emergency as it unfolds. At the same time, you should have strict policies on what information can be released and by who. No one in your organization should talk to the media except your spokesperson.
When you release information to the media, it should be as accurate and complete as possible and be approved (if necessary) by your legal staff.
Make sure your briefings are open and available to all members of the press. You should have a press kit that gives background information about your company and its business. You may also want to have a written statement or make a prepared statement before answering questions.
In general, follow these pointers when speaking to the press:
- Honor deadline requests.
- Don’t speculate about the incident or answer hypothetical questions.
- Don’t mislead or lie.
- Don’t make up answers when you’re short on information. It’s fine to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.”
- Don’t permit the unauthorized release of information.
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) can be a powerful communication tool, and you should harness that power to the extent you can. Many of your constituencies will be checking their feeds to find out the latest on the incident. The same rules that apply to talking to the media apply to social media.
If it doesn’t already, your company should have a social media policy that dictates what’s appropriate and who in your company is authorized to speak on your behalf. However, keep in mind that social media is an open and freewheeling form of communication; you don’t always control the message.
Survive the crisis
An effective incident response plan can’t prevent an emergency, but it can help your business survive the disruption. Don’t be caught unprepared. You never know when disaster will strike, so make planning for it a priority.
Contact your insurance agent or give us a call for ways to reduce your liability using operations and insurance planning.
Blue Ridge Risk Partners is a top 75 independent insurance agency in the United States. With 22 offices and counting throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and access to hundreds of carriers, we are able to meet your unique insurance needs.