What’s the Risk? Assess the Risks to Your Business, and Hit the Road to Recovery as Quickly as Possible

It’s bound to happen: an employee is badly injured, a power outage knocks out your computer system, or bad weather takes out your equipment or your facility. Unexpected emergencies can momentarily shut down operations, or even worse, put you out of business for extended periods of time, forcing your customers to go elsewhere—and stay there. Are you prepared? Planning for the inevitable is not as difficult as you think.

GI Joe had it right when he said, “Knowing is half the battle.”
It’s corny, but it’s true. Determining what can go wrong could be the key to saving your business in the event of a disaster. It’s a good idea to complete a risk assessment in order to identify, not only what could go wrong, but the effect on your business if something does go wrong.

When assessing potential risks, you should learn the threats, determine how vulnerable you are and then start prioritizing. Threats are anything that could happen to your people, processes, infrastructure or reputation, including natural disasters like hurricanes and tornados, machinery malfunctions, or human threats, such as stealing. Rank your threats in order of frequency. Now rank your vulnerabilities to these threats by the impact they’ll have on your business. The higher the risk exposure, the more it’s worth your while to protect yourself from that threat.

Develop a plan.
An emergency action plan is a written procedure for dealing with the threats you’ve identified in your original assessment. Some of the components of your plan will be prescribed by law, regulations or good business sense, and when there’s a legal requirement to do something, you’re usually—but not always—told how to comply.
The National Safety Council is a wonderful resource as far as providing tips on emergency preparedness. They can be found at www.nsc.org. There are a number of ways to create your emergency plan, but, no matter what you come up with, all your procedures should be documented in writing.

Also important is ensuring that you have a way of contacting your customers should you have the need. A press release, an e-mail or a sign that directs them to a new location or provides them with information when you’ll be back in business go a long way in reminding people that your reputation is dependent on them, the customer.

Readiness is key.
Once you get the basic emergency action plan written, tell your employees! Make sure they know what is expected of them in an emergency, be it big or small. If they haven’t been involved before, give them an opportunity to “dry run” the plan and talk over how things might go in an emergency scenario. You might find that there are changes you need to make to some of the plan’s details. That’s good. No plan is perfect, and it’s not even a plan until it’s been tested.

Be sure to share your response protocols, especially your evacuation procedures, with the local fire department, emergency medical service and police department. They are the first responders to arrive on the scene, and they’ll need to know what actions you’ve taken. When they’re alerted of your emergency action plan ahead of time, they’re better prepared to help. They’re also considered an expert with these kinds of plans and can provide valuable insight that you may want to incorporate.

Training for your employees will help mitigate the effects of an emergency and provide huge returns in employee satisfaction and business reputation. Training is an important and relatively inexpensive part of emergency preparation that may save a life. More important, proper training can prevent an emergency from becoming a disaster and make all the difference between closing down operations for a few hours and being out of business indefinitely.

Get back to business as usual.
Once you’ve assessed the risks and implemented an emergency action plan, take the time to think about the worst-case scenario and make some plans for how you’ll recover.

Some questions to think about—and answer—include these:

• Where will you find a new location to work?

• Where can you get replacement equipment?

• Who will help clean up after the storm/fire/disaster?

• How will you recover your critical data?

• How will you reach your employees and customers?

• How will they reach you?

There are a million questions you could ponder, but the most important thing to ask yourself is: “What is the quickest route possible to get me back in business?” You might get your operation back up in three weeks, and feel proud about that, but if your competitor does it in one, where will your customers go?

Starting and running a small business is hard, and there’s no way to guarantee that once you’re in business, you’ll stay in business. Plan ahead and be prepared by creating the most resilient business possible.