Being prepared for the Unexpected.

Posted by: Eric L. Herzog, Ph.D.,

Since September 11, 2001 Americans and American companies have been thinking about disasters. About who survives them and why. And about whether it is possible to improve one’s chances of survival.

The fact of the matter is, however, that natural and man-made disasters have always had the potential of affecting your business.

In the middle of the night May 4-5, 1988, the worst, most devastating high-rise fire in the history of Los Angeles destroyed five floors of the 62-story First Interstate Bank Building, including the bank’s offices.

The fortunate timing of the fire minimized loss of life. Good planning and quick thinking minimized loss of business. By 3:30 a.m., executives of nearby Security Pacific Bank had been polled about sharing workspace with traders from First Interstate. They agreed and met their counterparts at 5:00 a.m.

Based on the previous day’s orders, First Interstate traders successfully executed their customer’s trades. This was because their in-place emergency policy included offsite backup of each day’s files. In addition, each trader took a floppy disk backup home each night.

Think the Unthinkable

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines an emergency as any unplanned event that can cause death or significant injuries or that can shut down your business, disrupt operations, cause physical or environmental damage or threaten the facility’s financial standing or public image. Emergencies are unpredictable and improbable, but they can be anticipated.

You need to think now about the natural and technological hazards that could happen to your business, whatever its location and size. Gulf Coast businesses face annual hurricanes. Earthquakes are a fact of life on the West Coast. Urban businesses are impacted by civil unrest; severe weather can shut down other businesses for days. Unplanned power outages and fires can happen anywhere.

Other emergencies are related to your business line. Manufacturing plants might consider explosions or chemical spills. Businesses dealing with the public might consider threats from disgruntled clients or customers.

Plan Ahead

First Interstate Bank prevented the fire at their building from becoming a business disaster through planning. They had a plan, they rehearsed it, followed it … and it worked!

Establish a Planning Team

  • Form a team
  • Get upper management buy-in/approval
  • Analyze existing emergency response policies, procedures and capabilities
  • Identify your internal resources and capabilities
  • List possible/probable potential emergencies
  • Consider outside resources

Develop a Plan

  • Determine the purpose of the plan and goals within the context of your company
  • Define the sections of the plan and assign responsibility. Consider:
    • Emergency response positions and responsibilities
    • Communication
    • Procedures
    • Checklists
    • Training
    • Coordination with outside resources
    • Drills

Implement Your Emergency Management Plan

This article is Part I of a two-part series. Part II will present a typical in-place Emergency Response system and the training that accompanies it. Part III will review specific emergencies your business might face, with suggestions of appropriate responses for each.

Eric L. Herzog, Ph.D.
Eric L. Herzog, Ph.D.,

Dr. Herzog has 20+ years experience as a consultant and educator in structural and operational change, strategic planning, team building, productivity and executive development.