How prepared are you — really prepared — for another business disruption like most of us suffered last summer?
We’d all like to think we learned something about being ready for the “next time.” And of course we did, and pledged to react accordingly. But time passes and other demands take priority and many of those things we were going to do are still on the “to do” list. Checking them off is time-consuming, distracting and potentially expensive — yet not as distracting and expensive, perhaps, as trying to catch up with the “shouldas” when disaster revisits, or trying to recover from unpreparedness. Again.
Part of the challenge is knowing what systems and backups to put in place, and how to prioritize them. Not surprisingly, some people have actually thought about that.
At last week’s Winthrop Chamber of Commerce meeting, Anne Schmidt of the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition in Leavenworth talked about “business resiliency and continuity” during and after disasters, and pointed us to resources that can be helpful. Her key message: before resiliency and continuity comes preparedness. Which implies planning and, wouldn’t you know it, action.
Schmidt, herself a small business owner, emphasized that each of us who operates a business should be asking some fundamental questions about what it would take to continue functioning in a worst-case scenario, or even a second-worst-case scenario.
Many of us — myself included, I’m chagrined to say — hadn’t planned especially well for long-term power outages and/or communication system failures when the Carlton Complex Fire rampaged through the valley last summer. At the News, we scrambled, innovated, patched things together, fell back on “old” technology and made things up as we went along to ensure that we would keep publishing. Many valley businesses made analogous adjustments; others could not or chose not to.
I was, and am, fortunate to have highly adaptive, determined people on my staff. We cobbled it all together, but that’s all it was. Listening to Schmidt last week, I realized how lucky we were, and how much we still need to do to mitigate the next big outage. I’m sure other people in the room were thinking along similar lines.
Schmidt brought along information from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety that amounted to a tool kit for preparedness. The material poses many relevant questions which, in most businesses, would take some time to answer. What have you done to backup your computer systems and data storage? Do you have a plan set up for employee communication during a disaster? Where would you relocate if you had to? Do you have funds set aside for emergency expenses? Is your insurance coverage adequate and up to date? What are the biggest threats to your business? Can you rely on your usual suppliers and vendors? Are your employees trained, and cross-trained, to handle emergency situations? Are you prepared to do a “disaster drill” to test your readiness? How can other businesses assist you, and you them?
It’s all a bit daunting, but consider what’s at stake. As we learned last year, many of us might not recover easily, or at all, from devastating business losses during a disaster.
At our monthly staff meeting last week, my employees raised some of those questions. After hearing Schmidt’s presentation, I determined that we are going to come up with a plan for our operation so we don’t have to rely entirely on resourcefulness alone. There are many community efforts afoot to help us all be more ready, but each individual family or business also has to look to its own responsibilities. The inevitable lesson from dealing with the “last time” is that there will always be a “next time.”