Is Your Small Business Emergency Ready?

Just 5 days ago, the Ottawa area was rocked by six- yes SIX - tornadoes.  As our area dusts itself off and recovers, a lot of small business owners are recuperating their loss of perishable product, filing insurance claims, and in some cases- rebuilding.

What the storm has also exposed -in some cases- is the lack of an emergency preparedness plan for your small business.  In the event of extreme weather or events, does your staff know what to do?

We tend to hire employees that are strong, confident and self governing. We also usually hire people because we trust them.  That being said, a traumatic storm or event will rattle even the steeliest of nerves and logic. Having a policy carefully outlined in detail on exactly what your wishes and policies are can keep your staff calm, safe and prepared if something extreme happens- especially if you’re not there to lead them.

When Auntie Loo’s was still open, I had a pink dutotang that was our “Employee Codes of Conduct”.  It was 10 pages clipped in that outlined everything- from dress code to employee benefits to camaraderie. One page in particular was the source of many giggles and “really?” looks from my staff- and that was our “Emergency” section.  This page covered everything and what was expected of staff- example: fire (leave, cross road, call 911 then me) terrorism (lockup and leave if you don’t feel safe. Always.), harassment or aggression by a customer (throw them out. I had a zero tolerance policy on this).  It may have seemed a bit much for a tiny bakery, but having a firm policy and precise directions in place kept clear heads on staff in emergency situations.

Those giggles stopped a few years after my policy was drafted.  It was a sunny autumn day and I was in Prince Edward County seeing my family and buying apples for our fall lineup.  My phone started beeping, with texts from friends asking where my partner Chris was. (He’s a photojournalist). That’s when I found out there was an active shooter at Parliament.  My businesses’ second location was approximately 9 blocks from this location.

By the time I called my staff, they had stopped work, cleaned up, locked up, posted on social media we were closed due to the emergency and were on the way to a safe space.  Just like I had outlined in our plan for the shop, and had explained to them repeatedly- that their safety came first.

So, how do you draft an emergency preparedness plan for your businesses?  Here are a few tips.

  • Think of every single possible scenario and what you would do. What you would like staff to do. What the priorities are.

  • Create a list of emergency telephone numbers that are accessible to all staff

  • Empower and talk with your staff about how their safety is paramount, that material things can always be replaced, and get their input as well on your Emergency Plan

  • Set up meeting points near your business for staff in event of a fire, flood, tornado or other sudden traumatic event

  • Go over escape routes from your business

  • Call your insurance agent now and plan.  Are you covered for everything and all natural disasters? What kind of proof will they require should your business be damaged?  How can you keep proper records of your assets? What are your deductibles?

  • Do you have a contract for large clientele such as weddings or catering, and if so, do those contracts excuse you from liability and outline your refund policy should you be unable to meet your obligations due to natural disasters or emergencies that are beyond your control? (While I’m talking about contracts for big events, I’d like to quickly add that I always recommend adding what I used to call an “abuse clause” to a contract. We had one- this clearly stated that if you were verbally abusive, consistently rude or harassing any staff member- from the person who answered the phone to the delivery person, your contract would be cancelled and your deposit kept. Zero tolerance.)

  • Review your emergency plan with staff twice a year, and ensure all new staff have a copy for their review

Emergency preparedness can sound scary, big and official, but it doesn’t have to be!  Just as you drafted your business plan and staff policies and procedures, you can draft this too.  As I stated earlier in my post, mine was a simple pink duotang with clipped in typed sheets. Kept beside our phone at the shop.  Simple.

Being prepared and thinking through your reactions in an emergency will relieve both you and your staff of panic and confusion during the real thing.  

Be safe everyone!

Xo M.

Mandi Lunan