Julia Shallcrass is an employment columnist for the NZ Herald

Julia Shallcrass: Prepare your business for disaster

Demolition work continues on the nine-storey building at 61 Molesworth St, Wellington, which was badly damaged in the Kaikoura earthquakes. Phtoo / Mark Mitchell
Demolition work continues on the nine-storey building at 61 Molesworth St, Wellington, which was badly damaged in the Kaikoura earthquakes. Phtoo / Mark Mitchell

It is an unsettling thought that disaster can strike at any time. None of us are immune from natural and man-made calamities that can destroy buildings and disrupt our personal lives.

Despite damage caused by recent quakes, it is surprising how many New Zealand businesses have survived adversity. Business NZ reported limited disruption to many Wellington businesses following last November's magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Organisations like the Red Cross were able to continue despite the challenges.

Why do some businesses survive or even thrive post-disaster, while others sink faster than the Titanic?

"Preparation for disaster is key for business survival", says Anne Smith, New Zealand Red Cross acting Secretary-General. "It's important for all businesses - and individuals - to be prepared for a disaster".

You would be right in thinking the Red Cross are well-practised in disaster management. Since evacuation from their Molesworth Street office last November, their staff kept calm and carried on - providing post-quake relief from a temporary office.

The Red Cross prepared for disaster through effective communication, providing staff with remote access to IT systems, and encouraging staff to be prepared in their personal lives. Planning ahead meant the organisation could sign the lease on the temporary office the day after evacuation.

Disaster Planning

It's easy to be complacent, but it's better if we shed our "she'll be right" attitude in favour of being prepared. Preparation increases the likelihood that you, your business and staff will be resilient in adversity.

To create a resilient workplace, you first need a disaster plan. Every disaster plan should include emergency information, such as contact details of fire wardens and first aid, as well as continuity planning for business survival.

Consider these tips for mastering your disaster plan:
1. Protect against risks

Identify your core business needs that you need to protect. Are there any potential threats that could impact on your operation? Location may make your business more prone to certain types of disasters, such as flooding on low-lying land. Discuss disasters scenarios with staff so you can make plans to minimise the impact on your business.

2. Communication

People are the most important asset in business, so check to make sure they are okay. How will you contact them if your telecommunications are disrupted? Compile a staff and customer contact list that can be accessed in a crisis.

It's the uncertainty after a disaster that causes people the most concern, so update regularly about the safety of your premises. Let customers know when they can access your business again, and tell staff if you require them to work from home.

3. Remote access available

Prepare your staff for remote working, by providing access to remote IT systems. This will allow staff to continue working if your office is closed.

4. Electronic back up

Don't wait until important information is lost on your file server before backing up your data. It's important to back up electronic data regularly, and at least 3 times per day. Electronic storage should be able to withstand potential hazards such as fire and water.

5. Test your plan

Practising physical evacuation can discover any flaws in your escape routes. Likewise, business resilience testing enhances mental preparedness and checks for flaws in your plan. Test everything that is vital for your business operation, including power and phones. Conduct a trial restore of your computer data. Keep your staff up to date with any changes to ensure the relevance of your plans.

For more information, attend Julia's webinars on Disaster Management through CCH Learning.

Email Julia for a free check-list on getting your business prepared: Julia@kiwiboss.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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