Your phone is buzzing with weather alerts. The TV meteorologist advises you to seek shelter ASAP. When you step out of your safe place, there are three outcomes. First, you have been spared, and your employees are safe. The next option is you are fine, but your employees aren’t. Or the last one is everything you have worked hard for is gone.
Weather-related disasters from tornadoes to wildfires to hurricanes have devastated communities. The deadly tornadoes that devastated the US state of Kentucky in December 2021 highlighted why every business (and family) needs a disaster plan and how important critical communication is to the health and safety of the community.
Are you prepared for a weather emergency?
Do you have a plan? And how will you communicate to staff and customers?
It’s never too late to develop a disaster plan for business. The main goals should be to keep your employees and customers safe, maintain customer service with minimal disruption, and protect your physical assets.
While you need to have the top three actions in your disaster plan, critical communication such as communicating with your employees and customers is top of mind for me.
Communicating with Employees and Customers
Getting information out during a crisis is essential. Notifications systems are necessary to disseminate correct information quickly to both internal and external audiences. In reaching your communities, it is vital to understand their preferences. Websites, phone calls, SMS texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook, and traditional media are all appropriate channels for reaching them, and a multichannel effort works best.
Ideally, it would be best to use multiple communication channels to get information out quickly and efficiently during a crisis. Therefore, you should have more than one channel to reach people within and outside the organization—such as a web- site, phone trees, or email and text messaging groups. The goal of notification systems is to get the correct information out to the right people fast. There are various software systems out there to achieve this.
Internally, you will want to use your company intranet and email to send out information about the crisis. A phone tree and SMS text messaging are also options. Your organizational model and industry determine how your notification system will function. FedEx, for example, uses the Manager as Communicator model. Important messages and news are sent to managers, and managers hold team meetings to communicate the needed information. For example, if there is an urgent message when the drivers are out on their routes, FedEx sends a dispatch message on the scanner. Before a driver who has received a notification can continue with deliveries, they must read the short notice. McDonald’s uses a similar model.
You may not need the same format as FedEx or McDonald’s as a small business. Instead, you can set up an out-of-area number, where employees can call to say they are OK. For example, it could be your Aunt Jean, who lives in the southwest.
Let customers know if x happens, then y and z will happen beforehand. For example, if the schools are closed, the business will be closed. Use all available communications channels.
Externally, the type of industry your organization is in determines the kind of notification system. For example, the notification system for a chemical plant will be very different from that of a retail store. The principles are the same, though: You want to communicate quickly and effectively reach your communities. Doing so means knowing your communities’ preferences. Phone calls, SMS texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook, and traditional media are acceptable channels.
Here are some other steps to protect your business:
Back up your data off-site. You can use a cloud-based file hosting service such as Dropbox. Secure important paper files (such as building plans, insurance policies, employee contact, and identification information, bank account records, supplier and shipping contact lists, computer backups) by putting them in a protected area in safe water and fireproof containers. Also, a duplicate set should be stored off-site.
Secure your physical location. It is essential to board up windows, secure outside equipment, move vehicles to safety, etc.
Use Free Resources
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has great planning resources on their Ready Business site. And strongly urge you to visit this site and think about bringing in a professional to assist you with disaster preparedness in the future if you feel overwhelmed. I can guide you through creating a disaster response plan.
Having a disaster plan for your business is so important. I know my small business is worth protecting. Isn’t yours?
Let’s talk about how we develop a plan for your small business.