When you open a business, you are embarking on a large-scale investment. You supply money, time, and resources (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears) in the hopes that they will pay dividends. The trick is to maximize the return you want to see – whether that return is pure profit, bettering the community, or spreading an idea or service. Today I’m going to make the case for preparedness as one of the most important business investments a company, big or small, can make. We’ll discuss how to measure the return on your investment (ROI) and how to best invest in preparedness to get the maximum value from every penny spent. We’ll include real-life examples provided by the Global Disaster Preparedness Center and compare the preparation for small businesses with that of mega-corporations.
Measuring Your Return on Investment
Business planning is all about data. While new ideas can make a splash, proven processes and observed precedents are the best way to project the success of any given investment. After all, history tends to repeat itself.
So, when we study preparedness as strictly a business activity, we need to look outward, to the world and areas that have survived disaster. There will be some stories included below of business continuity from Hurricane Harvey, but we encourage you to search out stories for yourself. Look for disasters that are like what you may face or go through your area’s history to see what has occurred in the past.
According to The Institute for Business and Home Safety, 25% of US businesses that close because of a disaster never reopen. The chance of continuance for a small business is even lower, with 40-60% closing shop. I could not find a parallel study in Canada, but I think it’s safe to assume our rate of perseverance is similar.
Having an emergency plan, kit, and business continuity documents in place will dramatically increase an organization’s recovery time in the event of a disaster. The faster you recover, the faster you can return to business, and the faster income begins to flow again.
People are the most expensive components of many businesses. Companies pay for employees’ time at a minimum, with possible additional costs in training and benefits. You’ve cultivated a team of talented people with a knowledge of your systems and procedures and the skills to make it all run smoothly. Imagine the headache and expense if your team were suddenly gone – it would be difficult, if not impossible, to recover from.
While emergencies are sometimes limited to the office (fire, chemical leaks, or civil emergencies) most natural disasters will mean your staff are facing their own problems at home. They’ll need financial support to pay for damages from the emergency, and if your business isn’t operating, they may need to go elsewhere to take care of their families.
So, what can you do to avoid potential staffing problems? Encourage employees to be prepared at home with employee buying programs (we do that!) and awareness events like Emergency Preparedness Week. Or, work a support budget into your emergency plan to help employees or the community itself to get back on its feet. With these precautions, alongside your own plans and supplies, you’ll give yourself the best odds possible for business survival.
Long Shelf Lives
I really love to talk about long shelf lives, but I love it for a reason. Investing in food and water with long shelf lives now can save thousands of dollars in expenses down the line. Not only does it save on replacement items AND avoid inflating prices over time, but it also saves your purchasers and emergency managers resources they would spend sourcing, purchasing, and swapping out those replacement items!
Small Businesses Too?
Yes! Especially small businesses! As we touched on briefly above, small businesses are much less likely to survive upheaval than a large one. 40-60% Of small businesses are hit so hard that they never recover. One horrible week of natural disaster and everything you’ve worked so hard for is gone.
We hear from many small businesses that they just don’t have room in the budget for emergency preparedness. We understand completely, and we have good news: preparing doesn’t need to be expensive. Below we’ll go over all the things you can do for your business – many of which just require some forethought or elbow grease.
Alternatively, just pick one area of preparedness every week, or month, or year (whatever makes it happen) and tackle them one at a time. Even if an emergency strikes before your kit is complete, you’re better off than you would have been with nothing.
How to Invest
By now you’re likely aware of some of the ways you can prepare your business (a kit, a plan, etc). But how can you get the most bang for every buck? How can you maximize your investment? Below we’ve listed ways to prepare in approximate order of expense (low to high).
Make a Plan
Planning takes time, but can be done for the cost of a binder, paper, and some ink. We’ve discussed emergency planning for businesses at length in the past, but in case you missed it we’ll do a quick recap here.
A business emergency plan should cover everything and anything to do with your business’ preparedness. Include the risks your business faces, both internal and external, as well as what the danger and the potential costs of each. Be sure to include non-monetary costs too.
Write down emergency procedures, and what safety measures are in place to prevent or minimize damages. Describe who is in charge of what in an emergency and how you’re going to make sure your staff know what they are meant to do.
Depending how badly an emergency would effect your customer base you might want to plan for a sudden drop in business. If you run a construction or disaster recovery company, plan for the sudden increase in customers at a time when your supply chain won’t be at its strongest.
Five months after hurricane Harvey businesses in Houston, Texas were still dealing with a problem they had not anticipated. During the storm many elevators flooded making it impossible for some businesses to function fully. This was especially challenging for organizations with a mobility-challenged customer base, like medical services, care facilities, and day cares.)
Strategize With Existing Infrastructure
Your business may already have some great tools in place to help with emergencies. Take some time to consider how your existing resources can be used in emergency situations. Good examples of dual-purpose infrastructure would be using security cameras to keep an eye on a facility you can’t access, or using product you carry as part of an emergency kit.
People are the foundation of any great business. Chances are, you even like most of the ones you hired. To help keep your people safe and working it’s important to plan some supportive measures.
At a minimum, supporting your employees should involve asking if they are prepared at home with a kit, or at least extra food and water. Additional support might involve starting an employee buying program to get great rates on supplies for your team. These programs are free through Total Prepare and are an amazing way to help your people prepare their families.
If there’s room in the budget put aside some assets to provide direct support to your workers and even your community. Check out this great example of Data Foundry going above and beyond to help their team:
Data Foundry (DF) is a data center colocation provider who were there for their team when they were needed most. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey DF sent boats, gas, and supplies to the homes of impacted employees. They also reserved and paid for hotel rooms for the displaced and gave time off to those who needed to make personal repairs.
DF also brought in supplies from a secondary location to help staff in mucking out their homes. Families organized clothing donations and staff raised $20,000 USD in donations to relief efforts. DF matched it.
Create a Culture that’s Ready for Anything
In my opinion creating a culture of preparedness is the most important thing anyone can do to minimize serious injury or loss of life in an emergency. It also streamlines evacuation, supply distribution, and recovery. So how do you create a culture of readiness?
Practice, practice, and more practice! Schedule and participate in regular emergency drills at least once a year. Change things up every time to simulate different emergencies, or different situations within the same emergency. For example: have someone be ‘wounded,’ make usual evacuation routes inaccessible (imaginary fires are good for that), or have key staff members be absent.
The other major way to create emergency culture is to invite professionals onsite for training days. Training staff in first aid skills, light urban search and rescue, or even just taking a workshop on general preparedness are all wonderful ways to keep preparedness top of mind.
Get a Kit
Remember: There is every chance your staff will be on site for up to 72 hours after an emergency. They will need food, water, shelter, and possibly first aid supplies at a minimum. Total Prepare carries pre-built 24 hour emergency kits that are a great place to start, but consider going above and beyond with extra supplies. Contact our team and tell us about your organization – we’ll be happy to create something custom just for you.
If your organization expects staff to remain at work in an emergency please – please – call us for a custom quote. We have turnkey solutions designed for first responders, health care professionals, and communications/logistics hubs. These solutions account for the extra calories and water intake needed to support hard work (rather than just survival).
Pretty much anything can be insured these days: Heidi Klum’s legs, Gene Simmons’ tongue, or Keith Richards’ middle finger for example. These people have insured their livelihoods and trademarks, and so can you.
Insurance plays a critical role in the recovery of many organizations. Do some serious research and speak with experts about the options available to you. Multi-hazard policies can be especially useful. At a minimum insure against the top risks in your business plan, as well as obtaining business continuity insurance. The latter will be invaluable even if your business survives an emergency in pristine condition but loses customers and income due to disaster.
Reduce Risk With Preventative Action
This is the most expensive way to prepare your business, but also one of the most valuable. Go through the risks from your emergency plan and examine what could be done to minimize the damage from each. This might involve installing fire sprinklers, upgrading equipment, installing generators, adding flood barriers to doors, or even something as simple as changing the way a hazardous material is stored.
After Hurricane Harvey the owner of Beans Café in Houston could have saved upwards of $20,000 USD in food loss and replaced equipment with the purchase of refrigerators with top motors. The commercial fridges she had on hand operated on motors at the bottom of the units and were ruined when the flooding reached them.
Emergency preparedness is a strong investment for any business. ROI can be seen in employee retention and business survival rates for comparable organizations post-emergency. There are so many things that business owners can do to strengthen their businesses in this area, without the need to blow the budget. But with a little investment, you’ll see your preparedness paying dividends after an emergency, regardless of the size of your business.
Thank you for reading.
This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author of Tethered and Emergency Preparedness Professional.