June 13, 2010
How would your business cope if one-third of your employees couldn't come to work because of a pandemic flu? What if your electricity or transport services were down for a week? Or if your main supplier was in an area affected by floods and could not deliver critical supplies?
The Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness estimates that up to 86% of small and medium-sized businesses fail to recover in the 3 years following an emergency.
Being prepared is critical for any business. Creating a business continuity plan (BCP) can help your business survive during and after a crisis. You can prepare your BCP at the same time as your strategic plan, or it can be undertaken separately.
What types of emergency can affect your business?
For a business, an emergency situation is one that causes it to stop or alter its day-to-day activities. In Canada, this can include:
- Natural disasters: Different regions of Canada can be affected by a variety of cataclysms, including blizzards, hurricanes, forest fires, floods and earthquakes. Be aware of what natural phenomena can strike your area.
- Pandemic flu: A major outbreak of a rapidly spreading and contagious strain of influenza would mainly affect businesses through high employee absenteeism: up to 50% of employees could be unable to work. Unlike other types of emergencies, the effect of a pandemic will be worldwide rather than regional. For more information, see the BDC guide to business continuity planning for a pandemic.
- Environmental accidents: Oil spills, leaks of hazardous materials and the like.
- Power outages and critical systems failures: Includes breakdowns and stoppages in utilities, communications, transportation or health sectors.
- Accidents, sabotage, terrorist strike
- Cyber attacks
One of the greatest impacts of an emergency is on human resources. During a crisis such as a pandemic, your employees and partners may be unable to work. A disaster that affects the transportation system could make it impossible for them to get to work, and keep you from making deliveries or receiving needed materials. If the communications or electricity infrastructures are affected, it may be difficult for you to continue your day-to-day operations. Similarly, your data and your ability to work can be jeopardized if your computer systems are damaged. And it’s not only emergencies in Canada you should prepare for. If key business partners located in another part of the world are affected by an emergency, this can have a significant impact on your business.
How to prepare for an emergency
While we can't eliminate the possibility of an emergency occurring, we can reduce its impact by being prepared. In the midst of an emergency, finding the time and resources to protect your employees and otherwise minimize damages is much more difficult than preparing in advance. And planning is the key to being prepared. You should draw up a plan of what to do during the emergency to protect your employees and work site, and to maintain as many of your operations as possible.
Ensuring the safety of employees, your site and equipment during an emergency requires planning specific to the type of emergencies that can occur in your area. This may include plans for evacuating employees, creating a shelter in the workplace and providing first aid. Having emergency supplies on hand, such as a transistor radio, flashlights with extra batteries, tools, first-aid kit, food, water, blankets and a power generator, is an excellent beginning.
Consult the Canadian Red Cross for more guidelines on how businesses can prepare for an emergency.
Ensuring the survival of your business
The aim of business continuity planning is to help you continue to deliver critical services or products to your clients during an emergency, instead of focusing on restarting business operations after it has passed.
BDC offers all businesses a detailed business continuity plan to help them prepare for an emergency. Key steps include establishing an emergency preparedness team, identifying essential services and functions and preparing a plan for how each can be maintained. It is also essential to review the plan with the team and to revise, test and update the plan as needed.
Getting outside assistance
Creating a business continuity plan is an important part of a business's overall strategic plan. An external consultant can give you the guidance you need to ensure your plan is thorough and realistic.