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How to Create an Emergency Response Plan

When Mark Briggs, chief risk officer for Ohio State University, was brought on in 2008 to consult at an aircraft maintenance facility, it had already taken a multi-million dollar hit from a tornado 10 years earlier, and there still wasn’t an emergency response plan in place. It took Briggs four weeks to create, test and implement an emergency response plan.

Ten days later, another tornado touched down a half mile away from the facility. Luckily this time, thanks to Briggs’ plan, the facility was prepared and suffered minimal damage. 

Are You Ready?

There are plenty of unpredictable natural disasters from hurricanes to tornados, and although facility managers can’t control the extreme weather, they can control how they prepare for it. Having an emergency response plan in place before a natural disaster is critical for preventing destruction and saving lives.

Here are seven ways to build your natural disaster plan:

1. Understand Your Region’s Vulnerabilities

With increasingly unpredictable weather, you should plan for even the most unexpected natural disaster in your area, says Bill Begal, founder and president of Begal Enterprises, Inc., a fire and water damage disaster restoration company based in Rockville, Md. However, there are natural disasters your facility is more vulnerable to, based on your region, so focus on those.

Because certain disasters (such as earthquakes and tornadoes) happen without much warning, do practice drills with your facility occupants so they know what to do in an urgent moment.

2. Do a Practice Run

It’s essential to go through the potential natural disaster scenario before it happens, because it will bring up issues that need to be resolved. Briggs says it’s critical to do hands-on training drills with your staff and tenants.

3. Create a Plan for Turning Off Equipment and Securing Dangerous Substances

During a natural disaster, you must quickly isolate any dangerous chemicals or flammable liquids so they don’t feed a potential fire or spur an explosion, Briggs says. Designate who is going to shut down any equipment that is electrical, pressurizing or heat-generating in an emergency plan to prevent any explosions, fires or circuiting out. And assign back-up personnel, Briggs says, in case the primary person is not available or present. 

Briggs consulted a printing press facility for a nationally distributed publication that lost more than  $3.5 million after the pressed circuited out during an extreme windstorm. Not only was it a costly mistake in terms of equipment replacement, but it also greatly disrupted production for several weeks. Because the facility printed a newspaper that couldn’t take a hiatus, Briggs says the facility owners were forced to outsource the printing services during the recovery process. “It was an expensive logistical nightmare,” he says. Had they simply turned the presses off, they would have only had minimal damage.

4. Have a Warning System in Place 

Use multiple channels for alerting others in your facility. Install an audible alarm to be heard throughout the building or have an intercom system where you can verbally warn others, and make sure you test them.

If you decide to shut down the facility, Begal recommends having a phone tree list of cell phones ready so you can quickly get in touch with everyone. Or, save time by setting up an account with a messaging system that will automatically call a list of phone numbers and play your pre-recorded message. Most systems support SMS or automatic text messaging as well. 

5. Have a Contingency Plan

There’s always the unfortunate possibility your facility will suffer significant damages in a disaster, Begal says, so you need to have certain contingencies in place so that you can stay functional. This can include:

  • Having a back-up generator so that necessary equipment can stay running during power outages.
  • Backing up your server at a second location so that your data stays safe.
  • Contracting a back-up workspace until your facility is up and running again.

6. Make Sure Your Facility is Properly Insured

You can purchase a disaster insurance policy, which usually comes with two options: named peril or open peril. Named peril covers what is named or included in the policy, while open peril can cover disasters not explicitly included. In most cases an open peril policy is preferred, Briggs says, because it covers any related loss that is not specifically excluded, putting the burden of proof on the insurance company rather than you to prove coverage should be excluded.

Most commercial insurance polices are open peril with specifically named exclusions, the most frequent being flood or pollution, Briggs says. “For companies wanting coverage for these named exclusions, they would then purchase supplemental named peril policies,” he says. But those policies can be very expensive and not necessarily cost-effective, Briggs says. Before you decide whether to buy supplemental named peril policies, Begal suggests reviewing your building’s history to see how much damage it incurred from a past disaster and how much it cost to repair.

7. Review and then Re-review Annually

Outlining the most detailed of plans is a huge step, but you shouldn’t stop after merely creating it. Test it, and then modify the plan based on failed processes. Once the plan has been implemented, review it quarterly and test it at least once a year to include any updates.

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