We have witnessed incredible damage from natural disasters in recent years, with an increase in frequency and severity of events in the forecast. Weather patterns appear to be changing as storm systems are impacting areas of the country typically not affected or outside of the usual seasonal trajectories. Corporate security leadership struggles each year with analyzing and forecasting their most probable risk scenarios for natural disasters or any emergency situation that could negatively impact their businesses. Fortunately, a lot of the preparation and pre-planning efforts for any type of disaster have common themes, requirements, and tasks that can be leveraged and cross utilized.
Assess Your Risk
Which disasters are likely for your area(s) of responsibility? While it’s difficult to forecast every worst case scenario it is important to regularly review and analyze previous events, actual reported incidents, and potential disruptions that have or could impact your organization in order to prioritize and plan accordingly. Seek local/regional security team members’ (or other stakeholders’) input on risk since they may be more intimately familiar with the location. Conduct your due diligence to grasp the likelihood and potential impact to employees and assets, the financial and human affect, and what the worst possible outcome could bring. Include in this review your current operational locations, off-site areas where employees may work, customer or supplier operated facilities, and any possible impact to your business supply chain. From here, work on what the organization’s response will be and further develop plans.
A number of actions can be taken here to develop your approach and gather the support and resources required to ready your organization. Being able to illustrate and quantify the potential risk to business operations is critical as you connect with your company leadership to discuss your planned approach to mitigation and gain their much critical support.
Educate your employee population about company and facility specific emergency plans not only from a business perspective but also a personal one. Employees are a company’s greatest asset and while securing the business is our primary focus, ensuring that personnel are prepared for themselves as well as their families is critical. Make sure that informational resources are available and disseminated effectively to reach the population periodically. Laminated handouts make for great resources during a storm since, let’s face it, how many contact numbers or websites can you remember when your cell phone battery dies?
Organize emergency points of contact or designated response teams can prove to be invaluable for pre-planning and when an actual event occurs. They will help in identifying staff locations, asset protection requirements, and potential resources for support solutions. At the local/regional level it’s important to think strategically with regard to mutual aid agreements, local law enforcement contacts, security and logistical partners that can prove highly beneficial during an emergency. No one can guarantee what is possible during a widespread disaster; be realistic and vocal about your expectations and their capabilities to support your needs. These are the people you will rely on to develop detailed site and area wide emergency plans and policies for implementation. As many of these team members will also be line managers, they can also help HR to keep employees’ contact information and their emergency contacts updated (as they change periodically), which will help with accounting for personnel during and after an event. Once a decision is made to evacuate or close a facility you may also rely on these team members to remain at the facility and serve in a ‘ride out’ capacity.
Practice and Improve
Test your emergency notification systems to ensure that during an event you can effectively broadcast important information to all your employees. All bets are off as to whether cellular phone service or the internet will be available or reliable during a disaster. Plan for the worst and test to ensure all disparate sectors or contractor personnel on or off property are accounted for. It’s also helpful to test your systems occasionally to ensure that employees will be able to receive announcements and don’t receive one for the first time during a real emergency. Before, during and after an event, you want to be able to account for and advise personnel of the status of the facility. The safety of employees and their families comes first over continuity of operations. If unsafe conditions exist and the facility is closed, you’ll need to announce and update facility closures and let your personnel focus on their personal situations rather than work.
Hold a tabletop exercise periodically to exercise your team’s emergency preparedness muscle memory. We all have other jobs to do and the longer we collectively spend not thinking about disaster plans, the less familiar we will be when attempting to execute them. Set up a scenario-based role exercise and bring your designated emergency team and any other relevant stakeholders together to review, implement and revise plans, procedures and resources as needed. Resources and logistics are always compromised during a disaster; make sure your scenario(s) include a feature requiring a back-up or redundancy solution.
In security, preparing for an emergency is an everyday process, but that’s not always the way others view things. It’s our responsibility to share that burden by getting buy-in from leadership, effectively educating the general population, and executing emergency plans to safeguard the organization. A wealth of resources, best practices, planning information and table top exercise scenarios can be found at the Department of Homeland Security website www.ready.gov.