Operations and Management: Developing a Disaster Strategy

From an operations and management perspective, recent events have driven home the importance of being prepared in the event of an emergency.

“When something like Sept. 11 occurs, it really makes you sit back and reevaluate your disaster contingency plans,” says Steve Voight, president of $30 million baking supplies manufacturer/marketer King Arthur Flour, “everything from employee safety to the operations.” In fact, the Norwich, VT-based company, which employs about 160 people, is making a revamping of its evacuation and disaster recovery plans a priority this year.

Because disaster comes without warning and takes many forms, well-thought-out plans to protect your people — and your systems — are crucial. Disaster planning is also a requirement: Under Standards 29 CFR 1910.38, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all businesses with at least 10 employees to have a written disaster plan. If you’re reevaluating your plan, here are a few things to consider:

  • Make it a team effort

    Several operations experts recommend forming emergency teams — each with a leader — to create, execute, and test your disaster plan. Milwaukee-based lighting manufacturer/marketer Brass Light Light Gallery has team leaders in each of its three warehouses. That’s a good thing, since “we’ve had small fires because a machine overheated, and we’ve had to evacuate the building,” says marketing director Wayne Reckard.

  • Plot an escape route

    In the event of a fire or other disaster, you don’t want employees running out pell-mell, which could increase the chance of injury. “Training for disaster response is necessary so that employees know what actions are required,” says Wendy Smith, corporate counsel/vice president for safety products and forms cataloger G. Neil Cos. The mailer has a detailed evacuation plan because its Sunrise, FL-based location is prone to seasonal hurricanes.

    Floor plans that clearly show the escape routes are a critical element of an evacuation plan. Provide employees with a copy of the floor plan, and have a designated meeting location for employees outside of the facility. Hold evacuation drills at least annually, and evaluate performance immediately. Then review and update your emergency plans periodically. In buildings housing more than one business, coordinate plans with other companies.

  • Establish a telephone tree

    Sure it sounds simple, but do you have a system in place to notify all your workers in the event of a company shutdown or a disaster? Appoint a few employees to contact workers if emergency strikes. If you have 100 employees, you might have 10 designated workers to make calls to 10 other people. Another idea: G. Neil has an 800-number that workers can call to check on weather-related company closures.

  • Retain paper backup capabilities

    Technology is a wonderful thing, but if you have a power surge or an outage in your distribution center, you’ll yearn for the olden days of paper. So retain the capability to perform such functions as issue orders or pick tickets the old-fashioned way. Salt Lake City-based motivational products cataloger Franklin Covey has used paperless picking since 1995, but in the event of an emergency it can still print paper tickets. “If all else fails, we could still get product out the door,” says client services manager Charlotte Mills. “It would be extremely slow, but we could still do it.”

  • Have backup ready

    You don’t want to lose your data — and your ability to remain open for business — due a power surge or other crisis. “Businesses are realizing that they can’t be out of operation for more than 24 hours,” says Dan Sonneborn, manager of technical infrastructure for Middlebury VT-based site design agency Bread Loaf Corp.

    For power outages, an external generator is a good investment, says Ernie Schell, principal of Southampton, PA-based consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis. Daily backups, with the backed-up data stored offsite, are also a good idea. Two years ago, Weston, VT-based general merchandise cataloger Vermont Country Store configured backup data storage space as part of its distribution center in North Clarendon, VT. By backing up its data in a separate location, the cataloger is covered in the event of a fire or other disaster in its headquarters.

    At the very least, Sonneborn advises backing up data with tools such as zip drives and CD burners. “Your business is certainly worth a $100 investment to backup your data.”