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Are you prepared? Emergency planning for small businesses
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Did you know thatnearly 30 percent of small businesses in the United States experienced a disaster over the past three years and at least one in four of those businesses never reopened?To avoid becoming a part of this scary statistic, now’s a great time to take action and prepare your small business for disasters like tornadoes, floods, fire or theft. Here are a few tips to getting started on your business’s emergency plan:

  • Create a plan as a team. Plans are useless if only one or two people know they exist or what they contain. Encourage input and participation from all staff by creating awareness. As you schedule time for drafting your emergency plan, hand out logo’d safety items like Flashing Safety Lights or Emergency Guides.
  • Write it down and lock it up! Put the plan on paper and store it, along with crucial emergency contact information, in an identifiable Binder that’s kept in a safe location such as a fire-proof room or offsite storage. Store the plan electronically and back it up—if your internal server gets knocked out, so will your entire emergency plan and customer information.
  • Conduct a risk assessment. Plan for all probable disasters with the help of staff or with external help from a risk assessment consultancy—and address factors such as geographic location, surrounding buildings or sites, weather patterns, security threats, employee screening processes and current protection efforts.
  • Consider contingencies. Assess day-to-day functions and operations to determine which staff, materials, procedures and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep business operating, no matter what. Then put processes in place that determine how these necessities will be facilitated during and after an emergency, like creating flow charts of employees to determine a hierarchy of decision-makers, and drafting emergency contact sheets with information of all staff, vendors and customers.
  • Compile a disaster kit for each employee. Disaster kits will help staff cope during an emergency and giving each employee a logo’d kit ensures everyone has access to emergency supplies at all times and that they are easily identifiable. Some items that you might want to include are:

At least one of these kits should be stored in a central location, with the following additional supplies, just in case:

    • Battery­-powered or hand-­crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
    • Extra batteries
    • Matches
    • Tool kit—one like the Household Tool Set that contains wrenches and pliers, necessary for turning off utilities
    • Buckets
    • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shield a room if necessary)
    • Office supplies like paper, pens, markers and scissors
    • Garbage bags and plastic ties
    • Emergency contact information, a copy of your emergency preparedness plan, copies of insurance policies, bank account records, supplier and shipping contact lists and other pertinent documents.
    • Maps of the building and of the surrounding area (with critical utilities marked)
  • Get a map. Work with your local fire marshal and property manager to draft evacuation maps for fire escapes and a shelter plan for where employees are to take cover in the event of earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes. Also, develop maps and protocol for dealing with an armed person in the building or an intruder—how will the building be locked down while employees are evacuated? Post all finished maps in workplace common areas and also identify an assembly site for staff to meet once evacuated. These maps and protocol should also be included in your overall plan and binders.
  • Be secure. Make sure your electronic files, website and intranet are all secure and that you have back up systems in place. Test these back-up systems regularly! Install a security system to discourage break-ins and to automatically call the appropriate authorities in the event of an intruder or fire.
  • Plan to communicate. Communication is key in emergencies—you will need to communicate with your staff and sometimes, the media and other stakeholders. Be prepared for how and what to communicate to whom by drafting an emergency communications plan and establishing a spokesperson. As you develop this plan, know that there is always a hierarchy of concern—one that for many is natural but will reinforce credibility with audiences: Be concerned for victims first, employees second and customers and investors third. Of course, sometimes the victims are employees, customers or investors.

Last but not least, once your emergency plan is in place, make sure to practice, practice, practice. That way, there will be no doubt that everyone in your small business is prepared and ready to take on any emergency situation—and make it through.

For more information on emergency planning, check out our Blue Paper®.


“BellSouth Emergency Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses.” AT&T Small Business Bundles Services – AT&T Wireless, AT&T DSL, AT&T Local Services. Web. 03 Nov. 2009.

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