A couple of years ago, we arrived at the airport in Puerto Vallarta for our journey home. Good thing we obeyed the “2 hour standing in line” rule, because when we got there we learned that there was no electricity in the airport. We literally stood in that line for 2 hours because there was no backup plan for checking in.
We had our new smart phones with us, and were able to at least go in and confirm our flights on the spot, but not everyone had that capability. In the end, the airline scrambled to make things happen and none of us missed the flight, but it really made me think about how important it is for businesses to be prepared for emergencies.
As in your personal life, have a backup plan. Here are some things to think about:
1. Know how to carry on without a computer. I know that sounds impossible, but back in the day, we were able to run a credit card through on an “imprinter,” – remember the little machine that would slide back and forth over your card to imprint the number?
2. What would you do without phones? This would be a major issue for most businesses. Do you have an alternative way for customers to reach you? What about employees?
3. Have a telecommuting plan. While my eyes were glued to the television during the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, I kept thinking about how grateful I was that I could do my work from anywhere that had a computer and a telephone. As people were misplaced because of the disaster, business could go on, almost as usual, as long as employees had gotten to safe places. Your plan should include having emergency contact information for every employee, and surveying them prior to a natural disaster to know where they plan to go during the emergency.
4. Have a secondary work location. In our area, there is plenty of vacant space in office buildings. Work out a deal with others that your employees can work out of their space if necessary, and also make the same option available to them.
5. Cross-training employees. When disaster strikes, not everyone will be able to get back to the office. Good idea that more than one person knows how to do each task.
6. Keep it simple. Is your current system simple enough for someone to walk in and do the work? It’s good for each employee to have a control journal, or a binder with directions on how to accomplish their tasks each day. I always created one of these when I took over a new job. It was a great reference for me, and as I improved on it, I updated the information.
7. Do you have sleepover facilities? When I worked for a major accounting firm, there were weeks when people basically lived at the office while working on a proposal. If your employees are unable to get home because of bad weather conditions, make sure they’re comfortable there. You can’t expect them to work if they can’t get a good night’s sleep or a decent meal. Store basic equipment for cooking and sleeping, along with first-aid supplies. A shower would be a welcome addition to all concerned.
8. Know what’s going on. In the US, visit the United States’ Disaster Safety site http://www.disastersafety.org. You can plug in your zip code and it will tell you what emergencies you need to prepare for, and will also give you safety ideas. Great site.
My husband and I have the good fortune to live at our business. We own a beautiful golf course and live there on site. While we had some damage and flooding to the course due to Hurricane Ike, our building sustained the winds and the water with just minor injuries. It sure was nice, though, to not have to worry about the commute to our office.
Our two backup generators allowed us to have use of our computer, refrigerator, fans, and television for personal use. It also allowed us to run the cash register for the business, once cleanup had occurred, so we could be open for business. Of course generators run on gasoline, so it’s important to have enough fuel stored. Just as we were running out, our electricity was restored.
Cell phones replaced cordless phones, and I learned how important it is to keep a corded phone available for such emergencies. I remember during Rita that cell phone towers were out, so they were useless. During Ike, they encouraged us to text rather than call, but at least I had a way of letting my family in other areas know that we were okay.
A camp stove and outside grill allowed us to prepare our meals, but if we hadn’t had the propane, we’d have been in trouble. I was able to cook food for our employees and neighbors who came to help us with our clean up. Even with a generator, it wasn’t strong enough to supply electricity to the stove. (My daughter, with a gas stove, kept on cooking her Rachael Ray recipes without any problems at all!)
Without electricity, you can’t pump gas. We needed gas to run our equipment. With a shortage of gas, if you can find a station with electricity, you’re going to be waiting in long lines. Keep your tanks filled up at all times and have an alternate source of transportation. Keep a bike in the garage for such emergencies. Ride it once in awhile so you stay in good enough shape to use it if you have to.
I hope you never have to suffer a major loss due to disaster, but you can’t go on thinking that it will never happen to you. It can. Believe me, it can. If you take the steps necessary to prepare, even if you never have to implement your plan, it will make you feel more secure. When you think about it, to feel successful in any area of your life, you have to prepare.
So here’s today’s assignment. As you’re going through your day, think about how you could accomplish your tasks without the conveniences that you take for granted each and every day. Pull the family, or your employees together, and create or update a plan. If you make this a brainstorming event, I promise you that others will think of things that hadn’t occurred to you. Once you come together on it and put it in writing, make sure everyone understands. You will be so glad you took the time to prepare if you ever have to put that plan into action!
Joyce Moseley Pierce is the Family Emergency Expert for Ideamarketers.com. Joyce is the owner of EmersonPublications.com and creator of All They’ll Need to Know. She also publishes a preparedness newsletter, Family First. You can visit EmersonPublications.com to subscribe, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Joyce is a freelance writer whose work has been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. You may contact her at email@example.com