Logo - Business Development Bank of Canada - BDC

8 steps for planning your emergency and disaster plan

11-minute read

Whether it's a natural disaster such as an ice storm, or a serious accident in an industrial plant, an unforeseen event can disrupt business operations at any company.

After all, in an emergency situation, your employees may not be able to come to work. Your suppliers may face a shortage of the materials you need to continue your business activities, or demand for your services may simply decline.

The key benefits of a business continuity plan

No one can predict the future; however, you can be ready with a sound business continuity plan. Getting a plan in place shows your employees, shareholders and customers that you are a proactive organization; it improves overall efficiency in your company and helps you allocate the right financial and human resources to keep your firm up and running during a serious disruption.

Here are 8 basic steps to keep in mind when putting together your plan. Click on the link in each step to find more information and useful templates from BDC's complete Business Continuity Guide.

Download templates

Step 1: Establish an Emergency Preparedness team

It is a good idea to clearly assign the responsibility for emergency preparedness to a team. Select a few managers/individuals or an existing committee to take charge of the project.

It is advisable to assign one person to lead the planning process. You should also ensure that this "emergency manager" has the authority to get things done.

As with other business aspects, planning for an emergency relies on the following:

  • An understanding of the organizational objectives
  • Solid research on the risks
  • Creative alternatives to unique challenges
  • Reliable decision-making process.

What are the key roles and responsibilities for your Emergency Preparedness team?

Planning and implementation
  1. Develop the Business Continuity Plan (BCP)
  2. Establish alert levels and monitor
  3. Develop training and cross-training plans
  4. Identify key business partners such as suppliers and clients and determine if they have a BCP
  5. Assess potential financial impact of an emergency on the business
  6. Ensure adequate amount of supplies. (emergency safety equipment, such as personal protective equipment, or in the event of a pandemic, hygiene supplies like hand sanitizers, cleaning products, masks, protective barriers, etc.)
  7. Local site manager(s) implements the plan
  8. Perform trial run of the plan
Policies, procedures, organization
  1. Establish policies such as compensation and absences, return to work procedures, telecommuting, flexible work hours, travel restrictions
  2. Define chain of command for plan implementation
  3. Establish authorities' trigger points and when to implement BCP
  4. Establish emergency safety policies for the workplace. For example, in the event of a pandemic, policies that will help prevent the spread of influenza, such as promoting respiratory/ hygiene/cough etiquette, and prompt exclusion of people with influenza symptoms.
  5. Establish policies for employees who are directly affected by the emergency. For example, in the event of a pandemic, policies for employees who have been exposed.
  1. Maintain good communications and manage relations with all staff levels
  2. Advise senior management
  3. Instil importance of the BCP throughout the organization
  4. Liaison with local government agencies such as Health Canada and Public Safety Canada
  5. Prepare and disseminate timely and accurate information to all employees
  6. Educate staff about possible emergencies. For example, in the event of a pandemic, give information on signs and symptoms of influenza, modes of transmission, personal and family protection, and response strategies
  7. Evaluate using various forms of technology to maintain communications
  8. Help prepare training on the subject
  9. Local site managers implement the plan
  10. Setup systems to monitor employees for an emergency.

Use the Planning Team for Business Continuity in an Emergency form (DOC) to clearly identify the team members and coordinator who will create your BCP for emergencies, along with their respective contact information.

Step 2: Identify essential services/functions

During an emergency, your business may experience a disruption in your operations due to:

  • High staff absenteeism
  • Unavailability of supplies and materials
  • Interruptions to services like power, transportation and communications.
Objective of the business continuity planning process

Determine how your organization will maintain essential services/functions in the event of an emergency.

What are essential services
  • A service when not delivered, creates an impact on the health and safety of individuals.
  • A service that may lead to the failure of a business unit if activities are not performed in a specified time period.
  • In some organizations, services that must be performed to satisfy regulatory requirements.
  • A service where if not performed, the impact may be immediate or may occur over a certain time period.

This means that your business may be forced to modify, reduce, or even eliminate specific services/functions to cope with the impacts of the emergency. These impacts may be felt across the organization or localized to specific business units.

As you begin discussions, you may find that you have existing resources that you can use to extract information about essential services in your organization (e.g., pandemic influenza plans, Y2K plan, etc.)

How to determine and prioritize your essential services
1. Complete the Essential Services Ranking template

This will help you create your list of essential services by department or business unit. You then need to rate the degree to which it will negatively impact the various key areas such as financial, employees, customers etc.

2. Prioritize and categorize, use the Essential Services Criticalness Factor template

For each essential service, assign a "degree of criticalness" (Priority A, B or C). Rate the impact on each service such as staff absenteeism, unavailability of critical supplies, or disruptions to essential systems.

  • Priority A: Essential services/functions
  • Priority B: Services that can be suspended for a short period of time (for example, services that can be suspended for one month).
  • Priority C: Services that can be suspended for an extended period of time. This may require a corporate overview.
Step 3: Identify required skill sets and staff reallocation

As part of your business continuity planning process, you'll need to identify the number of staff and skills required to perform and maintain the essential services/functions.

Use the Essential Services Criticalness Factor template to help you capture the information necessary to develop your plan.

Try to identify any special requirements necessary to perform the essential services/functions (for example, license to operate heavy machinery).

You may also wish to prepare a list of special tasks and skills required in emergency situations and assign them to appropriate employees, e.g. crisis management team, employee support, IT backup, defining security perimeters etc.

Additional sites with useful information:

Step 4: Identify potential issues

Discuss what will happen if you have to reduce, modify or eliminate essential services or functions. Document the following points:

  1. All the issues that are identified
  2. Action plans for each issue
  3. The responsibilities of designated people for each essential service or function.
Step 5: Prepare a plan for each essential service/function
Strategies and action plans

Use the Action Plan Template for Maintaining Essential Service (DOC) to write your plans for each essential service or function. This should include:

  • A description of the service or function
  • Individuals responsible for implementing the action plan
  • Backup individuals
  • Business impact issues
  • Action plans: Include key items such as notification communication plan, staff relocation, alternate resources, suppliers, etc.
  • Resource needs
Key Contacts

Use the supplied templates to create lists of all your key contacts along with their contact information.


Being proactive in contacting important customers can go a long way in mitigating losses. Use the Action Plan Template for Key Customers (DOC) to list customers who would need and expect personal notification from you, or who would be offended or take their business elsewhere if they were not contacted.

Include the following information in your list:

  • Product or service provided: A description of the product or service you provide. Use the comments main to indicate the reason that this customer should be contacted in an emergency.
  • Contact person's name: For some customers, there may not be a specific person to list. As appropriate, you can list a title or department, e.g., "service representative on call" or "service department."
  • Contact phone numbers: Include all possible ways to reach the customer, including fax, cellular, pager, after-hours number if different from the normal number, and toll-free numbers in addition to the normal number.
  • Alternate names and numbers: Where possible, list alternatives to the primary contact person.
  • 24-hour service: If your customer does not have 24-hour service, discuss with them how to contact them during off-hours. Reassure them that the information will have limited distribution, and ask for home telephone numbers if cellular or pager numbers are not sufficient.
  • Comments: Include any significant information including the reason this customer should be contacted following an incident, instructions the customer would need, etc.
Suppliers and sub-contractors

Use the Action Plan Template for Critical Suppliers (DOC) to list essential information on your key suppliers. The information should be the same as that described for Key Customers, above.

Business partners and support providers

This main is for important partners who do not fall into the earlier categories, but that you would need to contact in the event of an emergency:

  • Business partners (internal and external) that are neither vendors nor customers. These could include internal business units who rely on your business for information, your management, and internal business units that would support your recovery. Examples include corporate insurance, internal security, facilities, public relations and legal entities.
  • Support providers include emergency-response agencies such as police, fire, utility companies, and the Canadian Red Cross (if your community uses the 911 system, that should be documented).

Use the Action Plan Template for Business partners (DOC) to list essential information about these other partners. The information should be the same as that described for Key Customers above.

Step 6: Compare with "Preparedness Checklist"

Review your Business Continuity Plan to make sure that all issues have been addressed, and identify any areas in which you may need additional documentation.

The "Business Continuity Plan Checklist" (DOC) provided by Capital Health was developed to ensure that you've covered most aspects of your plan.

Impact on your business
  1. Have you identified an emergency coordinator or team and clearly defined their roles and responsibilities? Do you need to involve labour representatives?
  2. Have you identified the employees and critical inputs you need to maintain business operations during an emergency?
  3. Have you trained and prepared a backup workforce?
  4. Have you planned for scenarios that are likely to affect the demand for your products or services during an emergency?
  5. What is the potential impact of an emergency on company financials? On different product lines or production sites?
  6. What is the potential impact of an emergency on business-related domestic and international travel?
  7. Do you have access to up-to-date, reliable information on emergencies from community public health, emergency management, and other sources? Are the links to this information sustainable?
  8. Do you have an emergency communication plan?
  9. What mechanisms are in place to revise the plan periodically?
  10. Have you tested your plan?
Impact on your employees and customers
  1. Have you forecasted and allowed for employee absences during an emergency?
  2. Do you have guidelines to reduce face-to-face contact in the workplace and with customers, in the event of a pandemic?
  3. Do you encourage and monitor annual employee flu vaccinations?
  4. Have you evaluated employee access to and availability of healthcare services during an emergency? Do these services need improvement?
  5. Have you evaluated employee access to and availability of mental health and social services during an emergency?
  6. Have you identified employees and key customers with special needs? Are their needs incorporated into your BCP?
Establishing policies to be implemented during an emergency
  1. Have you established emergency policies for employee compensation and sick-leave absences?
  2. Have you established flexible policies regarding worksite and work hours?
  3. Have you established policies to prevent the influenza spread of disease at the worksite?
  4. Do you have policies for employees who have been exposed, are suspected to be ill, or become ill at the worksite?
  5. Have you established policies for restricting travel to affected geographic areas, evacuating employees working in or near an affected area when an emergency occurs, and guidance for employees returning from affected areas?
  6. Have you set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company's response plan, for altering business operations and for transferring business knowledge to key employees?
Allocating resources to protect your employees and customers during an emergency
  1. Do you provide sufficient and accessible emergency supplies?
  2. Do you need to enhance communications and information technology infrastructures to support employee telecommuting and remote customer access?
  3. Will medical consultation and advice be available for emergency response?
Communicating with employees
  1. Have you developed and disseminated programs and materials covering emergency fundamentals?
  2. Have you anticipated and planned for employee fear and anxiety, rumours and misinformation?
  3. Are your communications culturally and linguistically appropriate?
  4. Have you disseminated information to employees about your emergency preparedness and response plan?
  5. Have you provided information for the at-home care of ill employees and family members?
  6. Do you have a platform for communicating emergency status and actions to employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers inside and outside the worksite in a consistent and timely way? Have you included redundancies in the emergency contact system?
  7. Have you identified community sources for timely and accurate emergency information? Resources for obtaining safety equipment and counter-measures?
Coordinating with external organizations and helping your community
  1. Have you consulted insurers, health plans, and major local healthcare facilities to share your emergency plans and understand their capabilities and plans?
  2. Have you consulted federal, provincial, and local public agencies or emergency responders?
  3. Have you asked local or provincial public agencies or emergency responders what your business could contribute to the community?
  4. Do you share best practices with other businesses in your communities, chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts?
Step 7: Review with the emergency preparedness team

You should present a draft of the Business Continuity Plan to your emergency preparedness team for review and/or comment. Since the committee will have an understanding of the overall corporate impact of an emergency, they should review to ensure that your plan:

  • Is consistent for all business units/departments.
  • Addresses all critical elements.

The committee should also be in charge of monitoring the progress of the initiative.

Step 8: Revise, test and update the plan

Be proactive: put your plan to the test by performing trial runs. This will help you identify any missing aspects or weaknesses.