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It can be difficult to know what actions to take to maintain your business and protect it for the future, particularly as we continue to face the global repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of expecting the unexpected. 

Nobody has a crystal ball to predict exactly what we may face in the future. That is why it is so important to have an effective and comprehensive emergency plan in place at your business. These crisis plans aren’t just relevant to the current pandemic. They can help with situations like fires, floods, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, medical emergencies, and more. In this post we detail what types of crises might need to be on your radar, how you might plan for them, and how you might engage with your employees or other individuals who work with you.

  1. Prepare for multiple types of crises

It’s important to be prepared for many types of disasters, not just the ones that are most common. The following list of hazards is from Ready.gov, a resource the U.S. government maintains to help people prepare for and respond to disasters. Check out the site for more information on disaster preparedness and specific tools to help your business.

Weather and other natural events

Assess if your area may be impacted by these events and prepare plans accordingly:

  • Earthquake, tsunami, volcano, landslide
  • Flood, flash flood, tidal surge
  • Snow, ice, hail, sleet, arctic freeze
  • Windstorm, tropical cyclone, hurricane, tornado, dust storm
  • Extreme temperatures 
  • Wildfire
  • Foodborne illnesses
  • Pandemic, infectious or communicable disease

Other types of potential risks

Businesses can also face other unforeseen disruptions and emergencies. You may want to plan accordingly, for the following:

  • Hazardous material spill or release
  • Nuclear power plant incident (if located in proximity to a nuclear power plant)
  • Explosion, fire
  • Building or structure collapse
  • Entrapment and or rescue (machinery, confined space, high angle, water)
  • Transportation incidents (motor vehicle, railroad, watercraft, aircraft, pipeline)
  • Robbery
  • Lost person, kidnap, extortion, hostage incident, workplace violence
  • Bomb threat, suspicious package
  • Terrorism

Technology-related events

  • Utility interruption or system failure (telecommunications, electrical power, water, gas, steam, HVAC, pollution control system, sewerage system, other critical infrastructure)
  • Cyber security (data corruption/theft, loss of electronic data interchange or e-commerce, loss of domain name server, spyware/malware, vulnerability exploitation/botnets/hacking, denial of service)
  1. Create robust emergency plans

Now is the time to formalize and document all of your emergency procedures. There are many resources available online as a template for your plans, like those from OSHA and the CDC. These guide you through the process of gathering all necessary information and creating a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan.

Record essential information and create an emergency response team. 

Many companies have full-time employees dedicated to emergency preparedness. Even if your company isn’t large enough to justify this as a dedicated role, you might consider having someone responsible for organizing your preparedness, in addition to their regular work. They can make sure plans are created, kept up-to-date, and executed correctly during a crisis.

It is also a good idea to form a team of responders for crises. Some of the roles to identify:

  • Emergency coordinator who is in charge of making decisions and running the team during a crisis. 
  • Floor captain to lead evacuations or other emergency responses.
  • Essential workers who remain behind to perform basic operations or shut down operations as needed.

Keep plans secure and up-to-date.

You may want to review your plans annually to make sure that all information is current and in line with best practices as recommended by OSHA and other government agencies like the CDC.* If a member of your team leaves and is replaced, you may want to go in and update contact info accordingly, right when the new team member starts. If a team member is unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, like a leave of absence or change in desire to participate, you may consider replacing them immediately and go on to update the plan.

Find a safe place for your plans so that they may be accessed quickly in a crisis. For many businesses, this will look like a physical copy of the plans and a virtual copy. You may want to train your employees so they know where these plans are and how to access them. It’s also a good idea to inform new workers or anyone who regularly visits your facilities of your emergency plans, like evacuation routes, and to introduce them to an emergency point of contact. That way, even if it is somebody’s first visit, they won’t be left feeling helpless in the case of an unexpected crisis.

  1. Help your business during a crisis

During a crisis, you and everyone at your facility (e.g., employees, visitors, other workers, customers, and vendors) will likely be focused on executing based on your robust emergency plans, which will likely focus on the physical and emotional safety of everyone on site. Here are a few things you may want to keep in mind as you work through a crisis.

Understand your operational resilience.

This is the time to identify key roles and responsibilities in your business. Ask yourself:

  • What are the essential roles in your business? 
  • Who does these essential jobs?
  • Could you operate without 25% of these essential workers? Without 50%? 
  • Who could you train to replace these essential workers? 
  • What is the maximum number of workers that could be absent on a given day and your business could still run?
  • Who can work from home? What tools will they need to do so?

Decide if you need to reduce hours, furlough, or lay off any of your employees in cases of extended crisis.

  • A furlough is a temporary leave of absence, with the expectation that your employees will return to their jobs at a given date in the future. Generally your employees keep their benefits during a furlough, but their hours (and associated payments) are reduced or eliminated. Employees who are furloughed are also allowed to look for new permanent jobs. When making these decisions, you may want to consult with your legal counsel.
  • A lay off occurs when you terminate workers’ employment because of economic conditions (not poor performance or elimination of  their role). In a lay off, your employees may or may not return to work at your company in the future. Large businesses conducting mass layoffs may need to abide by certain rules and regulations laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).* Under the CARES Act, workers who have been furloughed or laid off due to the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic may be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.*
  • Is your business able to operate in a reduced capacity?
    • If so, you may choose to keep your employees on payroll and reduce their hours. This could be a good choice if you have workers who are able to work from home, or if you are fulfilling curbside and takeout orders for customers.
  • Will you have increased demand in the near future?
    • If you feel like you will have increased demand in the future, but do not have enough work for employees right now, then you may consider furloughing them.
  • Do you anticipate a continued decrease in business?
    • If you have a decrease in business, and you do not know if and when your business will recover, then you may want to consider a lay off.

Communicate effectively with your employees.

  • Make plans for all types of scenarios when thinking about communicating with employees or other service providers. It is best to start with a medium that is most familiar, like email, then make a back-up plan from there. If the power is out you may need to hold off on electronic communications and plan to make phone calls from a landline or post notices in writing, in-person. If your employees are furloughed you may need to plan to email them at a personal address, as they won’t be working or may be unable to access work-related email. If you need to get out rapid warnings, like in the case of severe weather, you may choose to have a text alert system.
  • Designate another location you can use as a communications base if your workplace is damaged or unusable.
  • Regardless of the medium, make sure you are clear and concise in your communications. State the need-to-know facts up-front. Be supportive and empathetic in your tone. Remember that everybody may be feeling a heightened sense of stress during a crisis.

Prepare your business for the future.

  • Keep your employees and other regular visitors to your facilities current on all emergency procedures, and keep the lines of communication open for any questions or concerns they may have.
  • As part of your preparations, you will have identified the essential aspects of your business and the minimum amount of employees it takes to make this run. Make sure you always have the minimum amount of employees available. This may mean you have to conduct ongoing training or train employees from other functions to be able to switch to essential work if needed.

Now is the time to prepare

What is missing from your company’s emergency preparedness plans? What steps can you take to fill those gaps? It’s easy to put off creating a plan when it seems like there are more pressing issues to deal with. But now is the time to start. You may want to check out the links in this post and create a plan for all types of emergencies that may impact your workplace. Learn how to lead in a crisis. Prepare yourself and your employees. Expect the unexpected, so when an emergency does arise, you can feel confident and calm knowing that your company is prepared.

*This blog is one of a series meant to provide educational information. Nothing herein should be interpreted to constitute legal advice and you should not hesitate to seek appropriate legal counsel.