7 Key Steps to Disaster Preparedness in a Workplace Setting
Emergencies often happen without warning. From a tornado or an earthquake to a fire or a gas explosion, these incidents can result in property damage, physical injuries, or even loss of life.
That’s why it’s important for businesses to always be prepared for disasters, natural or otherwise. This way, their costly consequences can be avoided. Disaster preparedness also means a business will be able to continue operating with minimal disruption, which then translates to minimal downtime and minimal financial losses. It’s also part of an employer’s legal responsibilities to provide a safe and healthy working environment to their employees, and disaster preparedness is a big part of this mandate.
Fortunately, being disaster-ready in the workplace is not that complicated. It does take some careful study and planning, but things become more straightforward once you have a framework in place. That said, here are some key things to consider for disaster preparedness in the workplace.
Identify Potential Risks
What makes it difficult to prepare for emergencies is that you don’t exactly know what will happen. However, you can still make reasonable assumptions. For example, if your workplace is located in a coastal area, then you should invest in emergency measures related to tsunamis, hurricanes, or floods. Similarly, if your place of business is by a mountainside, you can account for disasters related to the disturbances in the topography, like landslides or slumps.
It’s also a good idea to use a risk assessment matrix, where you can rank each event or disaster based on how likely it is to happen and how big its impact will be. The higher the likelihood and the bigger the impact of a certain event, the more that you should prepare for it. Do note that the results of the matrix doesn’t mean that you should disregard lower-ranked disasters. Rather, they should help you focus on addressing the most pressing risks.
Develop an Emergency Action Plan
After identifying and assessing potential risks, the next step is to then develop an emergency action plan. Essentially, this is a document that states the steps that everyone in the company needs to take to ensure safety in case of emergencies.
Some of the most important details that must be in your emergency action plan include:
- A method for mass notification regarding an emergency
- An evacuation policy and procedure, including route assignments and safe areas
- Procedures for assigned personnel who will perform essential tasks (e.g., shutting down machines) before joining the evacuation
- Contact information of individuals and organizations to get in touch as the emergency happens (e.g., medical hotlines, fire station, and so on)
- Emergency communications protocol
- Medical duties and assigned personnel
Prepare for Data Backup and Recovery
Obviously, saving human lives should be a priority in any disaster preparedness plan. Nevertheless, there should also be a plan in place for data backup and recovery. This way, even if your computers and onsite data center get damaged, you still have access to all of your data, and you’ll be able to restore them immediately. A good way to do this is by taking advantage of a cloud disaster recovery as a service or DRaaS solution. In simple terms, what this does is that it switches your IT infrastructure to a failover service to prevent any data loss.
In choosing a DRaaS provider, check if they take snapshots of your data so that you don’t only have a backup but also a quick recovery option. Of course, make sure that the service provider also complies with security standards for business-critical processes. These standards can include those set by the payment card industry, as well as those relating to financial auditing standards, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002.
Build Different Teams
Disaster preparedness and emergency response in bigger organizations can’t be implemented by a single individual. There should be someone in charge, of course, but otherwise, there should be assigned individuals to handle different aspects of the plan. The entirety of the emergency action plan should also be developed by a group of people from different departments, such as human resources, communications, operations, security, and upper management.
For the emergency teams themselves, consider separating those who will handle the activities before, during, and after disaster strikes. Pay particular attention to recovery efforts, since the resumption to normal operations will greatly depend on this facet of emergency preparedness.
Update Your Emergency Plan Regularly
The best-case scenario is that you end up NOT implementing your emergency action plan because there have been no disasters or emergencies. Nevertheless, you should still review your documents every so often to make sure that they are responsive to the needs of your people and the environment. For example, your assigned safe area during an earthquake may have been altered over the years. Thus, you may need to revise your plan so that it will reflect a new safe area.
You should also take note of current affairs, changes in legislation, and even physical environmental shifts. All of these can affect your emergency action plan.
In order to know that your emergency action plan is viable, you need to conduct regular drills. Consider them as dry runs, if you will, and an opportunity to fine-tune your procedures. Do note that these can cost money and typically take a lot of time to plan since you need to coordinate with relevant groups like emergency medical services and the fire department.
If it’s not feasible at the moment to conduct a major emergency drill, consider having lectures conducted by experts instead. Invite resource speakers from various agencies to ensure that you’re getting credible information.
Provide Training for Your Employees
Disaster preparedness is not merely about planning, but also ensuring that those plans can be carried out. To help in this regard, it’s beneficial for you to invest in training your employees. Leadership training is definitely valuable, as well as basic knowledge in emergency response procedures. First aid training as well as proper usage of emergency equipment and data recovery tools are also critical.
It can be tedious to think about all these preparations but remember that, in the end, this is all for the good of everyone in your workplace. Stay safe by designing and implementing a disaster preparedness plan today.