When an emergency occurs, being prepared is no accident. It all starts with a good plan. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, up to 60% of small businesses never reopen their doors following a disaster, so it is critical for every business to have a well-written emergency action plan.
Listed below are 4 things to consider when putting together your business-specific emergency action plan:
Complete a risk assessment. When creating a comprehensive emergency action plan, it is important to address issues specific to your type of business, its geographical location, and your building's structural features. The best way to do this is to first complete a risk assessment to determine any potential vulnerabilities or threats that may exist for your specific operation. Some common threats to consider include:
Cyber or data breach attacks
Natural disasters (weather, fire, flooding)
Mechanical or hardware failure
Active shooter/workplace violence
Utility outage (power, water, network)
Hazardous materials spill or contamination
Food-borne illness or tampering
Any list of potential threats is not set in stone and will continue to evolve over time. Because of this, it is necessary to revisit your list regularly and update as needed to ensure you are well prepared for any new risks.
Conduct a business impact analysis. Once you have determined your list of possible risks, you then need to conduct a business impact analysis. This analysis is done to document exactly what impact a specific risk could have on your entire business. You should list any business functions and their supporting operations that could be impacted from each threat. You should also document the potential operational and financial impact of not having any of these functions operating properly. This way, when you create your action plan, you can prioritize your response based on the level of impact each potential disruption has on returning your business to normal operations.
Use all available tools to help with the process. Although an emergency action plan should be specific to your business, there are free templates available online that can help you get started. There are also certain elements that OSHA requires you to include in your action plan. For example, any emergency action plan must include, but is not limited to, the following elements (29 CFR 1910.38(c)):
Means of reporting fires and other emergencies
Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments
Procedures for employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate
Accounting for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed
Rescue and medical duties for employees performing them
Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted
OSHA also provides a checklist you can use to evaluate your program and ensure it covers everything you need it to.
Don’t forget about training. A plan is only as good as the people who execute it. If your employees are unaware of the details or don't review your plan until an emergency occurs, it’s too late. OSHA stipulates that businesses must communicate their emergency action plan to all employees covered by the plan. Make sure you assign key responsibilities to reliable employees you trust. If you have different work shifts, make sure you have key people in the building during all times. Practice makes perfect, so schedule drills and educational sessions to inform your team and walk them through the process. Don’t forget about new employees—include emergency action plan training in all new hire orientations.
It is almost impossible to predict exactly what will happen in the future, but being prepared for the most common risks can and should be done. You have worked hard to build your business and hire the right people. Having an emergency action plan in place can help ensure your continued success.