Emergency Preparedness, Human Resources, Sustainability/Business Continuity

How to Improve Business Continuity Through Employee Disaster Preparedness

Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, and areas that haven’t experienced disaster events in the past are now facing unprecedented levels of risk. In 2023 alone, the U.S. experienced a staggering 28 separate disaster events, each costing at least $1 billion in damage. This trend is expected to continue with record-setting wildfires, extreme heat, and severe storms already having plagued the country just five months into the year.

With hurricane season right around the corner, it has never before been so important for facilities managers to consider disaster preparedness.

Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows that 40% of small and midsize businesses fail to reopen after disasters, and of those that do reopen, 25% fail within just one year. Planning to better protect employees, property, finances, information, and operations from extreme weather well in advance can reduce, and may even eliminate, impacts. This article explores different ways that facilities managers can help prepare commercial and industrial facilities through the lens of employee personal preparedness, including:

  1. Knowing their risks,
  2. Getting finances prepared,
  3. Protecting important documents, and
  4. Making a home inventory.

While there are many actions that should go into business continuity planning, employee personal preparedness is a category that is often neglected, driving the need for more focused planning efforts. This article aims to offer a starting point for facilities managers to better support employees in getting prepared.

Before disasters strike, it is critical that employees are prepared with the knowledge and tools to stay safe. This ensures that employees can return to work sooner and with a clear mind post-disaster, thereby effectively minimizing disruptions to operations. Because of that, employee preparedness is an integral component of any organization’s business continuity plan, and one that must be addressed before the next disaster hits. 

1. Knowing Risks

Understanding disaster risks is the first step to being prepared. By having a thorough understanding of individual risk levels, employees can make informed decisions that will keep their families and properties safe from natural hazard events.

Facilities managers can share tools like Risk Factor with employees in internal preparedness programming. Risk Factor is an interactive tool that was developed by the First Street Foundation that enables individuals to examine their risks to extreme heat, extreme wind, wildfire, and flooding at the ZIP-code or address level.

Facilities managers can also encourage employees to sign up for local emergency notifications so employees can stay up to date on incoming hazards in their area.

2. Getting Finances Prepared

Financial preparedness underpins all aspects of recovery and, therefore, is a key part of business continuity at the organizational and employee level. It is critical for facilities managers to understand that navigating recovery funding sources, including savings, loan, and credit options, federal aid, and insurance, can be very challenging for employees if impacted by a disaster event.

Consider that just one inch of floodwater can cost $25,000 in damage. From an employee standpoint, being financially prepared will enable staff to recover from disaster events faster and more efficiently, minimizing the amount of time that they are unable to work post-disaster.

To best support employees, managers can offer disaster financial preparedness trainings, connect staff with financial advisors, or create funds to help employees shoulder immediate costs post-disaster that may prevent them from coming back to work.

3. Protecting Important Documents

Safeguarding important documents in advance is another way that employees can prepare for disasters. This preparedness action will expedite the process of submitting disaster insurance applications or filing insurance claims, enabling employees to recover more quickly.

Important documents can be bucketed into four categories: personal documents, such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates; household documents, like family emergency and out-of-town contacts; financial records and legal documents, including housing ownership and insurance policies; and medical information, such as health ID cards and medical equipment information.

It is recommended to protect these documents physically, in a waterproof folder or water- and fireproof box, and online. Having this information protected and easily accessible post-event will enable a smoother recovery process.

Offering preparedness trainings that take place during monthly staff meetings is one approach that facilities managers can take to empower employees to get prepared for disasters. To incentivize participation and help support staff, waterproof folders can be distributed to all attendees.

4. Making a Home Inventory

Lastly, facilities managers can encourage employees to create a home inventory. Home inventories serve as useful evidence of the pre-disaster value of one’s personal property, and therefore will be beneficial for employees to have when navigating insurance or aid post-disaster. Home inventories include pictures and videos of one’s home and belongings, important receipts and ownership papers, and more.

Like the previous action, creating and safely storing a home inventory is an effective protective measure that will only cost employees time, not money. Therefore, it is a great entry point for disaster preparedness to share across all staff members.

Facilities managers can take creative approaches to promote taking home preparedness actions through hosting annual competitions that focus on employee preparedness, such as completing home inventories, during National Preparedness Month.

Additional Actions to Support Employee Preparedness

While employee personal preparedness is a key component of business continuity plans, it is just one of the many layers that facilities managers must consider in order to build a culture of preparedness at their commercial and industrial facilities. Additional approaches include, but are not limited to, maintaining lists of employees’ emergency contact information, which should be updated annually; running annual business continuity scenarios for most likely disaster events to identify gaps in planning; and conducting disaster preparedness drills for tornado and earthquake safety.

While natural disasters can’t be stopped, facilities managers can do everything in their power to protect their staff, property, finances, information, and operations, and that starts with getting employees prepared.

Tessa Baran is Prepare Program Associate at SBP, a national disaster recovery and resilience organization.

Make sure to sign up for Facilities Management Advisor’s FM NOW: Emergency Preparedness virtual summit! Happening June 19, the online event will include a keynote session from an SBP leader. Details and FREE registration are available here.

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