With a session title like “Real-world planning without the BS,” how could I not attend? And Fiona Kennedy, emergency response manager for NBC Universal, did not disappoint. Her cool-as-a-cucumber disposition combined with her first-hand disaster response experience gave credibility to the “real-world planning,” and her Irish background no doubt helped deliver on the “no BS.”

Kennedy’s Monday afternoon session at SHRM’s ’09 annual conference and expo gave attendees five key steps to crafting a fail-safe emergency response plan: something that – in the wake of commuter train crashes and swine flu outbreaks – every organization needs. It’s a lot of info, but bear with me – the life of your employees and your business may depend on it.

1. Assess hazards to your business. Such dangers could be man-made, such as the threat of a terrorist attack for employers in major cities, or nature-made – i.e., floods/hurricanes in Florida and New Orleans and forest fires/earthquakes in California.

2. Create a continuity plan. Kennedy says the goal here is to ID people, structures, money and equipment that following an emergency are critical to get your business up and running again in 12 hours. Her tips:
- Make a list of key employees, procedures, equipment that are “business critical.”
- Make a list of important customer contacts so you can keep them updated in the event of an emergency and so they can help carry out your emergency response plan.
- Establish a succession process in the event top executives are unable to work.
- Establish disaster plans with business critical vendors.
- Keep important documents in an offsite, secure location, including: insurance documents, floor plans, tax records for three years, bank account information, vendor agreements and computer data backups.
- ID a “hot site,” an alternate location where your company can conduct business in case your building is not available.
- Establish a crisis management team comprised of HR/benefits, payroll, legal, communications, IT and accounting/finance.
- Set up teleconferencing and telecommuting technology so employees can work from home if building is inaccessible.

3. Talk to your people. Kennedy said in a disaster it’s important to have a means of getting information out and getting information back from employees. To that end, she advises:
- Setting up a phone tree, e-mail/text message alert, voicemail call-in or other system to provide workers of information about what’s happened, what they should do and/or who they should contact for more information.
- Set up an evacuation plan that includes at least two ways out of the building, and conduct evacuation drills four times a year (once each season). Kennedy warns: “It’s a pain in the ass, and employees will complain, but the bottom line is you’re saving their lives.”
- Have employees compile a “go bag” for them to take with them should they need to evacuate. The bag, Kennedy said, should include sneakers, hygiene items, water and snacks, a flashlight, battery-powered radio and lightweight raingear or blanket. “One of the problems during 9/11 was that people lost time evacuating because they couldn’t decide what they needed to bring,” she said.

4. Secure your investment – in your building, your people and your equipment. Kennedy’s tips for protecting your business’ most important assets:
- Secure equipment to floors and walls.
- Understand facility systems, including HVAC.
- Keep spreadsheets of pertinent information on your various insurance policies (type of insurance, carrier, policy number, deductible).
- Maintain separate bank account to cover deductibles, as well as maintain payroll, equipment rental, temporary workers, data recovery.
- Prepare for utility disruptions.

5. Know how to respond.
- Know how to contact employees offsite. Maintain home addresses and phone numbers as well as cellphone and Blackberry numbers.
- Offer employees incentives to learn CPR and first-aid.
- ID people willing and able to assist coworkers with disabilities and make a plan for how to alert and evacuate employees who could not hear fire alarms and other alerts.
- Encourage employees to make a plan for their own family – how to track down and notify their spouse, get their kids picked up from school or daycare. “If people know their family is safe, they won’t leave work if you need them,” Kennedy said.

I know this post was long and maybe a bit overwhelming. But imagine being caught offguard and unprepared for an emergency and the long-lasting effects the lack of readiness could have on your business and people. Kennedy cited a statistic from OSHA that 25% of companies never recover from a disaster. Don’t let your company be one.

Keep reading the Daily Diversion, BenefitNews.com and Twitter for updates and observations from SHRM ’09.

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