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After a Disaster: 10 Steps You Must Take

When you have a rough day at work, it sometimes feels like your world is falling apart.

When a disaster hits, parts (or all) of your business and the world around it may literally fall apart.

And if you want to minimize the overall impact on ongoing business—and even stay in business for that matter—there is precious little time for processing what’s happened. You need to act quickly. And acting quickly and decisively under the tremendous stress and confusion associated with any disaster requires some forethought.

So what do you need to do? This week’s post looks at 10 recovery actions you must take after a disaster. But before we get to them, let’s quickly revisit why an “it won’t happen to me” mental defense is a really bad idea.

Just consider the weather
Hopefully your part of the country hasn’t experienced severe weather or a natural disaster and the good luck will continue. But it’s also worth remembering that one severe storm—let alone a natural disaster, fire or other event—can quickly turn your world upside down, impacting everything from daily business or contracts to the lives of employees. In other words, it doesn’t take much to go from business as usual to crisis. And damaging weather and natural disasters have become alarmingly frequent in recent years.

When big events happen, planning is key to keeping people safe and the business moving forward. And the cost and effort that goes into getting prepared for a disaster is tiny compared to the relative peace of mind that comes with knowing what to do to during difficult circumstances. Things like having a generator lined up in the event of an extended power outage can make all of the difference when hundreds of other businesses are suddenly scrambling for help. As can having resources available to secure your site or make temporary repairs.


The most important thing, however, is being prepared to take recovery actions. Here’s a list of items that every business and organization should consider at minimum:

1) Make sure employees and customers are safe 
After any event that puts peoples’ lives in danger, your number-one priority should be making sure that everyone in and around your facilities is safe. Be sure to get an accurate headcount of employees and visitors so you can try to account for everyone that was onsite when the event happened and immediately notify emergency personnel of injuries or missing persons. 

2) Determine if a temporary facility is needed to limit business interruption
When your facility is compromised, it can be difficult or even impossible to keep operations moving, and you may need to quickly come up with answers to the following questions:

  • Where will important equipment and documents be stored?
  • Will your employees need to work from home?
  • Is a temporary onsite location available? For example, a mobile office out of harm's way or tent, or will you need to use a (hopefully pre-secured) temporary offsite location?

3) Access key contacts speed-dial list
At minimum, this list should include a list of key contacts, including first responders, local hospitals, your insurance broker, emergency response vendor and so on. Stay in contact with emergency partners pre and post-incident to discuss logistics, impact locations, and resource availability.

4) Activate HR emergency response plan
Your HR plan is key to keeping the business operational on whatever level is possible under the circumstances. Key action items should include:

  • Assisting with communicating areas of accountability and responsibility for key personnel
  • Establishing a call tree and updating the main company voicemail message
  • Distributing directions to the temporary work site and contacting critical personnel to notify them of procedural changes
  • Continuously rallying employees and assuring them that by working together the business will survive and prosper. Over communicate. Team meetings or activities are a great way to maintain employee engagement

5) Contact your prequalified emergency restoration partner
If you already have a relationship with an emergency restoration provider, they should be able to help you quickly secure your site and begin outlining what will need to happen during the recovery process. If you don’t have a relationship with a provider in place and are in a time crunch, focus on the following three criteria as you evaluate provider options:

  • Safety record—a sound safety record says a lot about a provider’s culture as well as their efficiency and efficacy.
  • Experience level—the more types of situations a contractor has seen, the better they will likely be at helping you quickly and effectively navigate your situation.
  • Reliable references—even in urgent situations, don’t skip calling references. The vendor will be a key part of your team for a very crucial time period, so it’s important to know they will have your back.

6) Revisit accounting/purchasing systems
Once you’ve addressed concerns about people and property, you will need to start thinking about broader business considerations. One of the first items on your to-do list should be confirming that accounting and purchasing systems are set up with vendors, account information and tracking numbers to capture loss costs.

7) Confirm committed, undisturbed supply chain connections
Let your upstream supply chain partners know that you have experienced a disaster and determine if the disaster also has affected their ability to provide you with what you need to conduct your business efficiently. If so, discuss workarounds that may help keep parts of the business operating as usual (i.e. source new suppliers).

From a downstream perspective, let your customers know that you experienced a disaster and that you are working to restore regular operations and services as quickly as possible. Let them know if your doors will remain open throughout the recovery (or partially open).

8) Engage trained staff and management regarding “disaster-mode” operations
Reiterate areas of accountability and responsibility for key personnel and affirm how each person can best perform their crisis-response duties safely and effectively. Staff should clearly understand what to do and be comfortable carrying out responsibilities. Remember that live practice is key so tasks are ingrained when the lights go out.

9) Contact your insurance carrier or broker
Quickly communicating your loss to your insurance company is essential to getting your claim paid properly. If you delay filing, your settlement could be reduced or even denied. To avoid potential questions about your claim, inform your insurer and/or broker about the loss as soon as possible—with as much detail as possible, including (but not limited to):

  • What was damaged, including the cause or suspected cause
  • The day and time it occurred
  • Who will be the primary contact person
  • Notification about your plans to secure the area

10) Execute your external communications plan to update your community
Without a plan in place, it can be difficult to communicate the right messages about your business after a disaster. Ideally, you will maintain an external communications team and plan that will help you with the following:

  • The immediate mobilization of PR/communications spokes-person(s) to be “out in front”
  • Determining when your company will be providing interviews to the media (and who will be assigned to the task).
  • How often your company will update social media streams and websites.
  • Who will be responsible for reaching out to public aid organizations, such as the Red Cross, FEMA and the CDC, for example.

Knowing what to do after a disaster can make all of the difference in a speedy recovery. But as you can see, based on these 10 steps, it’s a lot to think about. So the more planning you do up front, the more competently you and your team will perform under the stress of the moment.

If you don’t already have a disaster recovery plan in place, you can use our Jump Start Disaster Recovery Plan template to get started.



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