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Preparing for a Disaster--One Step at a Time
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Often, businesses don't prepare for a disaster not because they don't want to but because they think it will involve a resource-intense project, something many small- and medium-sized businesses can ill afford. While disaster preparedness can turn into a multi-headed monster if not properly managed, disaster preparedness doesn't have to be that way. And it doesn't have to be done all at once if done in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Here are some tips for preparing for a disaster without making it into a time-sink.

  • Get a checklist. A checklist will help you keep track of what you need to do and what you have or have not done when it comes to disaster preparedness. Doing this is especially important if tasks will be handed out to various people or departments. You can either make your own checklist (a more time-intense way of doing it) or use a checklist from another source such as COCA or the California Office of Emergency Management (OEM). You can download our checklist here.

  • Decide how prepared you want to be. There are degrees of preparedness. The bare minimum is that, in a disaster, you can safely evacuate your workers; any processes that could harm workers, the environment, or the public can be secured; and the rest you leave up to whatever outside services may be available. On the other end of the spectrum, you can have all the equipment and supplies to do full disaster response on your own with minimal assistance from outside services. Obviously the latter takes more time in planning and training and more equipment and resources.

  • Not sure what disaster preparedness looks like? Get a copy of our checklist, "Is Your Business Ready for Disaster?"
  • Evaluate as you go. Keep a small notebook on hand, and as you go about your regular routine ask yourself (and your workers), "In a disaster, how would this operation or process or these workers be affected and how would we mitigate the effects?" Jot down the issues in your notebook (and if you know the answer, jot that down too). This "evaluate-as-you-go" method will allow you to work disaster preparedness into your everyday work without having to find large blocks of time to work on it.

  • Prepare as go. You don't need to wait until your evaluation is complete to start working on disaster preparedness. As you've noted things that need to be done, especially if they take very little effort and few resources, do them now instead of compiling them into a single large project for someone to do. If you do them a bit at a time, they're more likely to get done.

  • Document as you go. The beauty of computers is that it's become exceedingly easy to revise and update policies and procedures. As you evaluate your organization and take action to prepare for a disaster, you can add to or modify your written plan. Over time, you will eventually have a complete written plan.

  • Check your checklist. Even though you're not completing your disaster preparedness in one fell swoop, you do eventually need to complete it. You'll want to keep track of where you are in order to know when you've reached that goal.

  • Make updating easy. To make updating your disaster preparedness plan easy, ensure that, whenever a change takes place in the workplace, you have a procedure incorporated into the process that evaluates what, if any, alterations need to be made to your disaster preparedness plan as a result of the change. Making small "tweaks" to your plan this way will be far less cumbersome (and results in a plan that is more up-to-date) than waiting a specified period of time and then re-evaluating the entire workplace.

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