Disaster Preparedness Is A Must For Your Business
by Natasha Ashenhurst | Originally published in the Thurston Chamber’s VOICE Magazine | December 2019
Most successful businesses have a business plan, a marketing strategy and long-range goals in place, but not many have drafted a disaster preparedness plan, let alone drill employees through mock disaster situations. Vivian Eason, Emergency Management Coordinator for Thurston County would like to see that change.
Eason outlined the steps organizations should take to prepare for a disaster or emergency. And while most of us think of disasters arriving in the form of an earthquake or flood, Eason cautions that businesses also need to plan and drill for an active shooter situation, wide-spread flu outbreak or a fire.
Step One: Prepared Personnel
According to Eason, the first step to create a prepared business is to make sure employees are prepared at a personal level.
First, individuals and families should think about how they will receive emergency alerts and warnings. Eason recommends following the Thurston County Emergency Services on Facebook and Twitter and recommends that both households and businesses should have battery-operated radios in order to follow NOAA and the Thurston County alert system. She cautions that people always check the source of the news they receive and should avoid second-hand information, as it often is false. Instead, rely on first-hand information from a reliable source.
Next, households should have a shelter, evacuation and communication plan. This includes thinking about food and water. In the past, Eason and her colleagues suggested three days of food and water, but after the Cascadia Rising drill, they now recommend two weeks of food and water.
Organizations also need to designate essential personnel from non-essential personnel. Outline strategies for essential personnel getting to and from your organization in events such as snowstorms, floods and any situation where the roads are difficult to navigate.
Step Two: Emergency Employee Communication Plan
“Once your employees have a plan and know how they will communicate with their loved ones, you need a way to communicate with your employees,” said Eason. She recommends creating a phone tree to communicate important information in a fast and efficient manner. The communication plan can be as simple as a brochure that employees carry in their car or briefcase.
Step Three: Create a “Shelter in Place” Plan
Most organizations have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in a central location, but not many have a supply of emergency food and water on site.
“If a disaster takes place when employees are at work and they can’t get home, businesses need to think about having desk kits or a supply of food and water set-aside,” said Eason. Some businesses keep dehydrated food on hand; others have a kit for each employee. No matter what system you choose, you need to be able to take care of your staff until you can get help.”
Step Four: Drill, Drill, Drill
Finally, once communication and shelter plans are in place, organizations need to drill for an actual emergency so they are well prepared if disaster strikes.
“The more you drill and the more you practice, the better you will react in stressful situations. O Bee Credit Union worked with the fire department to learn how to evacuate in the case of a fire, and taught all of their employees how to use a fire extinguisher. Know the risks your business faces based on where it is located and drill accordingly. If you are in an area prone to flooding, drill for that. If you are on the fifth-floor of a building and have staff who can’t take the stairs, drill for that,” said Eason.
Local fire departments are an excellent resource to help create an emergency evacuation plan, said Eason. She said these plans are especially important to think about if any employees have a disability, which could make it more difficult for them to quickly evacuate. Drill for other things like an active shooter situation, a chemical leak, terrorist threat, an earthquake or a flood.
Planning will not only save lives but it can save the business from financial loss. In Rochester, an egg farm has an agreement with Northwest Helicopters to fly eggs out and supplies in if a flood or natural disaster cuts them off from their supply chain. A local veterinary clinic recently installed a generator so that in the event of a power outage they will not lose valuable medicine.
Eason said, “Ultimately, businesses and individuals need to be prepared to be on their own at home and at work. They need food and water. Most importantly for the community, they need to be ready to come back strong and resilient after a disaster and they need to be ready to help their neighbors.”
Editor’s note: In addition to the handy, ‘Two Weeks Ready’ Survival Kit Checklist on page 11, you can find an excellent emergency preparedness and planning checklist for businesses here: bit.ly/emergencyprepchecklist