Managing A Crisis: Disaster Preparation

The events of the past two months have traumatized us all. In the wake of international hostility, small businesses as well as transnational enterprises across the nation have redoubled their efforts to make sure that their businesses can survive a natural or unnatural disaster.

Columns From: 11/1/2001 Modern Machine Shop,

The events of the past two months have traumatized us all. In the wake of international hostility, small businesses as well as transnational enterprises across the nation have redoubled their efforts to make sure that their businesses can survive a natural or unnatural disaster. Most companies have been caught unaware and ill prepared. Many have begun to try to overhaul their security plans without violating current employment laws. It has not been a pleasant task.

The unthinkable is now possible. Not since the Cold War era, when building fallout shelters and hoarding canned goods were deemed essential preparations for a looming nuclear attack, have so many rushed to the Army surplus stores for gas masks and other paraphernalia to ward off the effects of "mankind's inhumanity to man." It is a sad commentary on the human condition. Chemical and germ warfare has popped out of the movie screen and into the waiting rooms of America's businesses. And business will never be the same.

Crisis management recovery specialists and disaster preparedness teams are busy putting together workplace emergency plans that encompass everything from computer back-up recovery systems to grief counselors, evacuations and safety drills (a must during the 1950s). Business as usual is no longer usual. Everything has changed. And business wants to assure customers and employees alike that their safety and well-being is of paramount concern.

Managing a crisis or surviving a disaster can be an experience full of twists and turns. It can be baffling, challenging and costly, especially if there is no plan in place. Being prepared includes having a current, detailed and written plan of action. It also presumes that the workforce is well trained in the plan. A crisis management team must be in place to implement the emergency action plan, and this team must be charged with the authority to make decisions on the spot. This team must also know what kind of corroboration they will receive from other resources. Finally, a plan must be put to the test and rehearsed. There is no substitute for a familiar checklist and a practiced plan before a crisis develops.

Companies also need to help their employees deal with emotional trauma after a crisis or disaster. The company's emergency plan should include information on employee assistance programs and resources in the community. Workers who witness disaster can be emotionally scarred for weeks, months and even years. They may exhibit signs of depression, unhappiness, crankiness, panic, weariness and physical illness.

The need to get back to work right away must be commingled with a considerable dose of compassion and understanding. In a crisis, stress the need for flexibility and sensitivity. If you stay calm, so will others. If you procrastinate to implement an action plan, you will compromise the safety of your employees and customers.

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