There is an old saying “Man plans, God laughs”. In the aftermath of Sandy, this is so true. Even the most well though-out contingency plans for businesses may not be sufficient in the event of such a catastrophic incident. Sandy has had and will continue to have a profound effect nationally for quite some time. Its occurrence during the last days of a Presidential Election certainly has shifted national priority and attention. (Leave it to the political analysts and historians to parse out its relative effect on either side.)
However, this should give pause to organizations of all sizes to rethink their operations to determine how equipped they are to avoid or at least mitigate the effects of such a catastrophic event—and it’s not just a hurricane or meta-storm. Even if a brick-and-mortar work location did not take a direct hit, it is quite possible that its staff, employees, customers, and others were affected in some way. The bottom line is that every organization should have a contingency plan in place. It could be a devastating event of nature like a hurricane, earthquake, or fire. It could be the death of one or more staff members or even a relative. It might be something else that causes a widespread power outage at the office location or in residential areas. Or it could be an incident that is the result of terrorism like we saw in 9/11. Then again, a work disruption might be the result of a relatively common and minor event like a snowstorm. While large organizations might have dedicated teams or individuals in place for this, even small to mid-size businesses should have some program of prevention or reaction. Some basic, simple, and often inexpensive steps can go a long way. What follows are 10 tips to consider in that regard, which I have gathered and though about, fortunately from afar. These would apply to a for-profit business but also schools educating children and nonprofit organizations which cater to the less fortunate. Certainly, nothing is absolutely foolproof and hindsight is always 20-20. And I know that I am probably missing some important things, so this is checklist is by no means exhaustive. But with the right needs analysis and planning, vulnerabilities to person, property, and data, can at least be minimized.
(1) Concern for your employees: Last but not least, be concerned for the welfare of your staff. This means not just their coming back to or meeting job requirements remotely. But, most employees also have a home and a family. As a manager, you should show empathy and reasonable flexibility. Create a culture of caring among your management and employees to facilitate their helping one another in times of crisis.
(2) Data and Technology: Have a system in place to back-up data (perhaps to the Cloud or virtual drive). Shut down work stations and unplug to protect from power surges. If in an area of possible flooding, raise equipment to higher ground. Know who has critical passwords and access points and develop a protocol for someone else to have that information somewhere else.
(3) Co-locate: Have a contingency to allow access to work and be able to connect remotely from two places. One would be from home and one from an additional remote location. Make sure that employees have the requisite hardware, software, mobile devices (phones, laptops, tablets), cabling, and other equipment to allow for this. Regardless of location, we know that outages can affect a combination of power, phones, cell service, Internet/email, or water. So, both in the office and remotely, prepare by having mobile devices fully charged, with fresh batteries as necessary. Don’t forget about artificial lighting.
(4) Physical security and welfare: This is to guard the work facility for theft, vandalism, looting, and weathering the elements. This is important as you might not be able to get to that location after a severe incident. Have operational smoke and fire alarms, security systems, and fire protection equipment on-hand. If advance notice, remove stuff from the fridge and freezer. Even with all of this, assess what your ongoing vulnerabilities are to damage, fire, theft, vandalism, flooding. Consider a generator or other external power source to back-up, supplement, or replace. Perhaps secure a supply of drinking water to keep on-hand. Having candles, matches, flashlights, and even an old-fashioned battery powered radio would also be a good idea. And don’t forget about the fish tank in the lunch room.
(5) Communication with customers and vendors: Identify who your customers and clients are and put redundant lists of contact information into the hands of one or two key people in the organization. Do you have contact emails, home phone, and cell phone numbers for your key customers? If you run a school or daycare, for example, these individuals may be the parents or caregivers. Be sure to maintain the same level of security of this information when you take it remotely as when resides in your office. Notify clients on the status of what is going on, especially if they are in an area less or unaffected and may not be able to appreciate the magnitude. To the extent that you can send something out a plan in advance of the event, that would be advisable.
(6) Communication from and with your employees: Make sure that your staff has a way of contacting the company for any absences due to the event. This will help document for when things get back to normal. They should have health care contact information available as well as contacts for any insurance claims. Often, these resources are connected to the company’s benefits plan. Encourage them, perhaps with a “tip sheet ahead of time to maintain a supply of drinking water, candles, flashlight, batteries, etc. in their homes.
(7) Communication infrastructure for updates: Through what will you communicate with your staff and customers? Will it be a “Robocall”, email blast, or posting on the company website? You might want to consider a social media account like Facebook, should the event knock out your email or website.
(8) Getting work done: In the aftermath of the severe (part of the) event, there is still at least some work which needs to get done. Some staff might be in better shape where they live than others to do this. Think about potential remote collaboration among staff. Can staff be in touch with one another and if possible collaborate as needed with each other. Management should provide guidance and staff should be empowered to triage responsibilities and work that is critical versus what can wait.
(9) Organizational hierarchy: Succession planning is an exercise beyond the scope here. But what are the lines of succession for key decisions if the top in the loop is inaccessible as a result of no power, Internet, or cell service? Decisions often have to be made as it relates to closures and communicating with various stakeholders. This should be part of the plan and publicized accordingly.
(10) Working relationships with authorities, resources, and neighbors: The organization should “be on the map” within its locale. This might be as minor as someone in the neighboring suite taking in main and packages. In many cases, it is more significant than that. Appropriate and positive relationships with public safety entities and community support organizations should preferably exist in advance. At least, the contact information to those resources should be accessible. We rely on these resources both before and certainly after the fact.