Disaster Planning – Protect Your Operations

by James P. Tate on September 25, 2017

The recent natural catastrophes, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have had a major impact on families and businesses in many areas of the country.  The scope of each disaster has been significant in terms of geographic area and the economic affects.  While the personal human tragedy has been heart-rending, this essay will focus on suggestions for mitigating the damage to businesses.  The recommendations in this essay are not intended to be all- inclusive.  Each plant and company is different.  These suggestions are meant to stimulate your planning process as you develop your own disaster relief plan.

Natural disasters can’t be predicted in long term with any degree of accuracy.  However,, by looking at past history in a particular geographic region, certain types of natural disasters can be expected to occur.  For example: beach and coastal areas are prone to hurricanes and tidal flooding.  The Mid-West sees more than its share of tornadoes.  The northern regions can expect snow storms and blizzards to disrupt operations.  The Rocky Mountain and Far West can see wild fires and earthquakes.

It only makes sense for a prudent business manager or owner to take precautions to protect his investment and operations from destruction or severe interruptions.  What sort of precautions should be taken?

First, look at the potential catastrophes that could occur to disrupt your business.  There may be several different types, and you may have to rank them by the probability of occurrence in your area.

Then consider the elements of your business that you need the most: Your accounting records, your bank connections; engineering drawings and bills of material; certain communication links; pieces of machinery that are unique to your operations; and key personnel.  These elements would be the most difficult items to replace if they were lost.  Each of these elements would have a page in your disaster plan.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How can I protect these elements? Duplication or off-site storage, including cloud storage of records; replacement parts; alternate communication links.
  2. Do I need back-up power to be able to restart or continue operations? How do I protect this backup power source?
  3. Do we have a protocol for a quick shut down of key machinery to avoid damage?
  4. Do we need a plan to relocate key machinery if necessary?
  5. Would the building of flood walls, drainage basins, fire proof structures, elevated structures or buried structures be required for protection?
  6. What supplies or raw materials would constitute a hazard to personnel, or the environment in the event of a disaster?  Should we construct special barriers; or alert local HAZMAT teams of the existence of these materials and methods to neutralize them.
  7. How would I notify key personnel of the impending disaster?
  8. What personnel would be most urgently needed to get elements protected in the event of a disaster?
  9. What personnel would be required to restart operations and get the plant back on-line?

With these questions asked, you can start to formulate an action plan to address these issues.  It may be beneficial to assign a subordinate a certain portion of the action plan and allow him to recommend solutions with estimated costs.  Then your disaster team could review the recommendations and assemble the complete plan.

When the plan is formulated, you should review it and make additions or corrections at least once a year.  There are some parts of the plan that may justify a drill or a walk-thought of the action plan to make sure it is feasible and uncover any potential problems.  If you haven’t found a glitch in your testing of the plan, you probably haven’t gone into enough detail!  It is better to find the surprises before the disaster occurs than as it occurs.

I would be interested in your feedback and comments on your individual disaster plans.  I would like to share them with others in the audience in a future article.

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