It's hard to look at a disaster like Superstorm Sandy without wondering how your company would respond in similar circumstances. There are disasters you can prepare for as they head your way and disasters that will sucker-punch you. Be ready either way with a comprehensive emergency plan and train your people on it so they know what to do.
Just to help you organize your thoughts, here are ten things you can do now to prepare for unpredictable, inevitable disruptions. For additional ideas, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has a variety of resources available at www.ready.gov/business.
- Computer backup
The information systems on which your business runs are the critical links that must be protected from disruption. A continuity plan for your business systems, using offsite backup systems or cloud-based redundancy, allows you to make sure no transactions are lost or data corrupted.
Andy Berry, vice president and general manager for the Distribution business at software provider Infor, said recently that smaller distributors too often don't have any kind of disaster recovery plan at all. “They will just operate on paper for as long as they can,” he told Industrial Distribution.
- Backup power
Any electrical distributor that sells backup power systems but doesn't have one installed in every facility is not paying attention.
- Central contact point for employees
First make sure your people are safe. Establish a designated point of contact where everyone on your staff can check in, convey information about their personal safety and get the latest information regarding your business such as changed hours of operation, damage assessments and recovery plans.
- Communication with customers
Get out ahead of the trouble and make sure your key customers know what you can do to help them in case of disaster or disruption. You might create a section on your website devoted to your disaster response plans, the products that will be most in need when the trouble hits and how you can help them get back to business.
Grainger, Lake Forest, Ill., has a great section on its website spelling out what customers can do to prepare for a variety of disruptions and how Grainger can help. (Click “Emergency Preparedness” under the Resources button on the home page, www.grainger.com).
At the very least, you'll need an emergency contact plan with a variety of ways to get in touch with your company. These could include hard-line phones, cellular phones and voice-over-internet (VOIP) options as well as e-mail and text contact info. Use all your social media platforms and marketing lists to get the word out.
Talk to your customers also about their preparedness for disruptions. This conversation can lead to bringing in additional inventory, developing preparedness packages for them to keep on hand or staging materials for them to use in the initial response and rebuilding after the disaster.
- Vendor plans
Talk to your vendors when the sky is blue and all systems are go. Find out what they plan to do if their facilities suffer a disruption and what they can do to help ensure the availability of their products when disaster hits.
- Financing and insurance
Your preparedness communications should extend to the bank that handles your line of credit to make sure they have systems in place for providing emergency funding for inventory or repairs if needed, and for making sure your staff gets paid despite any disruptions to the business operations. You should also have plans in place to provide information to your insurance company on losses.
Your company may not have the nationwide coverage Grainger has established, or 350 locations and a dozen distribution centers to draw inventory from, but most distributors have networks through associations and buying groups that they can use to bolster their response capabilities. Check with your peers outside your immediate geographic area to set up agreements for mutual support in the case of a disruption.
Superstorm Sandy brought a lot of flooding and many roads were impassible for days after the storm. Even where roads were open, lines at gas stations further slowed distributors' ability to get critical supplies out to their customers. Topping up all the tanks before a storm hits, considering locating a truck or two on higher ground, diversifying fuel sources can give you additional options for responding.
- Facility security
A widespread disaster can bring out the best in people, and in some cases the worst. With police and emergency responders occupied elsewhere, looters could easily see a typical electrical distributor as prime target because there's so much electrical equipment that's in high demand for recovery efforts.
- Emergency kit
Somewhere onsite, you should have emergency supplies including a first-aid kit, bottled water, sanitation supplies and other emergency response equipment, modified according to the hazards your business is most likely to face.