SEPTEMBER was National Preparedness Month — sadly ironic in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, with so many unprepared. Could individuals and business owners have done something to avoid the personal impacts of such a large-scale tragedy? As Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP, wrote in an e-mail blast shortly after Katrina hit, “It is a personal responsibility.” How true — we all need to be personally responsible for our own safety and the continuity of our businesses.
As event planners we are experts at planning, often planning the biggest and best events for thousands of people. But, are we prepared for any kind of emergency, whether it be a power outage, a huge hurricane or even the death or injury of an employee? Most of us simply do not think about these possibilities, and yet it is simple to be well prepared. Now is the time for us to do things differently. We need to be personally responsible for our own safety instead of relying upon the government and insurance to make us 100 percent operational after a disaster.
Contingency planning means planning for the “what ifs” and the worst-case scenarios to minimize loss of life, property and income. Your business could be held legally responsible for damages that occur during an emergency for which you are not adequately prepared. Experts indicated that extensive pre-planning led to the flawless security at Pope John Paul II's funeral in April. Forward-thinking companies implement contingency plans to address natural disasters, fires, economic crises, terrorist events, etc. For example, companies in California prepare for earthquakes, and companies in New York planned ahead after the bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993, minimizing the financial impacts to our economy on and after Sept. 11, 2001.
To minimize the risk of damage to your company or your event, the following information needs to be recorded and kept in easily accessible places:
IDENTIFY KEY PEOPLE, THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES AND CRITICAL OPERATIONS.
There are key people who manage a company, and key people who run critical operations. Identify all of your key people and their responsibilities, and keep their phone numbers available away from the office. Also identify alternate people (delegation of authority) who could step in and perform tasks if the primary person is not available. Examine what functions are essential to your business and need to be running within 24 hours or a week following a disaster. This planning could actually help streamline your business!
IDENTIFY BACKUP LOCATIONS.
Alternate locations should be identified for both the management team's command center and critical operations. Choose sites nearby, but far enough away that they won't be impacted by the same emergency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, having a backup site in Houston for your business (and family) would have been good, but Chicago would have been even better. If the hurricane moved west instead of due north, Houston could also have been affected.
IDENTIFY ACTIVATION SCENARIOS.
I like to break this into three important scenarios:
Impact to key people
Impact to the infrastructure (the building or home where you work)
Impact to the critical functions.
Identify how you would handle impacts to these scenarios if they were affected for 24 hours, a week or longer. Larger businesses should conduct risk assessments.
MAINTAIN BACKUPS OF DOCUMENTS IN OTHER LOCATIONS.
Many businesses would have difficulty operating without access to their information databases. Identify that information — e-mail addresses, appointment schedules, contact information for contractors and vendors, client records and client contracts. Keep this information somewhere other than your office. Set up a schedule in which you update and store electronic data weekly and hard copies monthly at another location. Make the process practical but effective.
TRAIN, TEST AND MAINTAIN THE PLAN.
It is not effective to keep contingency information in your head, in a computer or on paper if it is inaccessible to anyone else. Make sure the key people identified in the plan are aware of their responsibilities, and run frequent tests to make sure the plan works. Notify the key people of any changes in the plan.
This article provides you some of the essentials of a plan, but is by no means comprehensive. Every business is different, and the time and money spent now on a thorough review and implementation could save your business and so much more in the future. Either consult the experts or use the many resources available online. Be proactive! Make emergency planning part of your daily routine.
As event planners, we have the advantage of being skilled in planning and thinking ahead. We can make a difference in everyone's businesses, lives and communities. Do not be caught unprepared during the next emergency.
Pamela Fromhertz is president of Denver-based Continuity of Operations Planning Experts, which develops emergency and contingency plans that cover all aspects of preparedness. She can be reached at 866/745-5080 or www.copeservices.com.