Emergency Preparedness, Sustainability/Business Continuity

Staying Connected During a Disaster

Workplace emergencies and/or natural disasters can cause massive disruptions to your business. To stay ahead of the curve, you should address business continuity in your emergency preparedness plan.

emergency preparation checklistOne critical element of your emergency preparedness plan will be connectivity—can you stay connected with your workers and others, and can workers stay connected with their families and any necessary community resources, when disaster strikes?

What happens immediately after a disaster? You’ll need to start assessing the damage to your operation, and you’ll need to be able to communicate with some or all of the following:

  • Emergency responders. Find out who is in charge of emergency responders—fire and police units, search and rescue units, even the Red Cross or other volunteer agencies—for your site, and establish communications with them.
  • Your workers. Are they all accounted for? Have any been injured or killed? Do you need workers to come in or to stay home?
  • Workers’ families. Employees will need to know what has happened and the status of their loved ones. If the disaster was regional and not limited to your facility, workers will also be concerned about the status of their families.
  • Business contacts. You may need to establish contact with a remote corporate office, your insurer(s), your customers, and your suppliers to let them know how the disruption will affect your operation.
  • The media. If anything about your facility is of interest to the community, you’ll want to establish media contact. They may want to know about chemical releases, deaths or injuries, or similar issues. If the disaster is regional, you, too, will need a source for news so you can keep up with recovery efforts.
  • Regulatory agencies. Regulatory agencies may need to know if workers have been killed or injured at your facility, if hazardous materials releases have occurred or could occur, or if you may need assistance with security issues.
  • Repair and rebuilding contractors. You will need to contact people who can help you start putting your business back in working order.

If the disaster affects only your facility—such as with an explosion, fire, or chemical spill limited to your premises—communication may be a simple matter of phone calls, text messages, and e-mails. However, in a larger disaster, when area infrastructure (such as cell towers and electrical utilities) is heavily damaged, you might need to have backup strategies in place to make communication possible.

Keeping in Touch

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers the following recommendations for making sure you’re ready to communicate in an emergency:

  • Go old school. Traditional phone lines may function in power outages, but only if you also have traditional cord-connected phones. It might be a good idea to keep at least one old-school phone in each area of your facility.
  • Text, e-mail, and message. Voice communications might be less reliable in a disaster than other communications channels. Know how to send and receive updates using other methods, including text messaging, e-mail, and social networking sites. These channels may be available when others are not.
  • Know who you’re going to call. Make sure your contacts are up-to-date across all of your devices and social media accounts, including phone, e-mail, and websites. That way, you can reach out through whichever device and communication channel is available to you.
  • Create a listserv or group for your top contacts. Establish in advance a person or office outside the area to serve as a contact point for everyone in a disaster.
  • Have workers identify ICE contacts. It’s also important for others to know whom to contact on your employees’ behalf, if necessary. Instruct them to program “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) contacts into their cell phones so friends, coworkers, or emergency personnel can contact those people for them if they cannot use your phone. Remind employees to make sure their ICE contacts know they are programmed into their phone and are aware of medical issues or other special needs the respective employees may have (for example, does the employee have any allergies?).
  • Think power. Phone, tablet, and notebook batteries can run down quickly in an emergency, and you may not be readily able to recharge them. Use them sparingly until you know you can recharge them.