Tue | Jul 27, 2021

Vince Plummer | The disaster response plan every SME needs

Published:Thursday | July 22, 2021 | 12:06 AM

WITH AN ‘active’ Atlantic hurricane season already living up to predictions, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) still have an opportunity to figure out how they intend to get back to business soon after the passage of a storm or hurricane. Having an effective disaster response plan is the first step to ensuring readiness.

The plan typically involves a set of procedures that guide business owners on how to prepare every aspect of their operations for an impending disaster. It also includes how they manage during and after the catastrophe. This kind of preparation is commonly referred to as Business Continuity Plan (BCP). And with good reason, because the whole idea is to get your business back on track as soon as possible after a disaster strikes.

Essential service providers, like Digicel, are required to perform annual updating of their BCPs, including staging mock emergency drills in tandem with agencies like the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Jamaica Fire Brigade, and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Some medium-sized firms, depending on the nature of their business, may also have to carry out these activities in order to fulfil regulatory requirements.

For most other businesses, this kind of dress rehearsal for a disaster need not be as comprehensive or costly. Quite often, SME owners tend to think that this kind of detailed planning is the reserve of large firms with a huge capital outlay. The truth is, every business needs a BCP that is scaled primarily based on their risk of exposure to pre- and post-disaster threats that can wipe them out. This is why the Facilities Management team at Digicel came up with these simple steps to guide SMEs along the path to preparation and recovery.

1 Establish your objective: Say why you’re doing it, so that others in the business know the exact purpose and objective of the plan. Next, put it into a document that should be required reading for every employee to know all the sequential actions and protocols that they must follow in the event of a disaster. It must also include who is responsible for each action. And, don’t forget to factor in COVID-19 protocols. Finally, test it. Stage an annual drill to see how everyone responds, then use the opportunity to address gaps.

2 Analyse your risks: What areas of your business are vulnerable to a disaster? Think buildings, storerooms, equipment, digital and physical files, and, of course, your employees. This must include an evacuation or shelter-in-place plan that covers preparing to move people and critical business assets, or how to secure them while they ride out the storm at your place of business.

3 Establish your crisis management team: This group will include key decision-makers who will be expected to effectively manage the organisation’s disaster response.

4 Identify a ‘war room’: This is a safe and secure space for your crisis management team to meet, plan, and execute the business continuity plan.

5 Create a communication plan: What does the business say to customers, vendors, employees, regulators, and the media before, during, and after a disaster? Ensure that you also share an emergency contact list with them.

6 Back-up and store vital records: This is perhaps the most critical aspect of business continuity, according to our head of Small Medium Business Sales, Kristalle Chin. She recommends that every business must back up and protect their customer data, employee data, and other important digital information. A local hard drive is not enough. All SMEs must consider Cloud backup and storage, using a highly secure data centre, like the Digicel Tier 3 Data Center.

7 Secure your standby equipment: Water tanks and generators should be topped up, batteries should be fully charged and in a safe place, at least 48 hours before a storm or hurricane strikes.

8 Consider your insurance options: It may be too late to get insurance by the time a storm or hurricane watch or warning comes along. However, for the medium to long term, you must seriously consider this option, especially as your business continues to grow and your risk of exposure increases.

9 Make a plan to help others: Especially if you haven’t been badly affected, see how best you could reach out to help other businesses or persons. It could be as simple as offering some storage space, or donating some of your emergency supplies.

With your business continuity plan in place, you can feel more confident about getting back to normal as quickly as possible.

As a primary service provider to businesses of all sizes, it is important for us to reinforce disaster response needs. Our experienced team of experts at Digicel Business provide 24/7 support, while our network teams work around the clock to keep businesses and consumers connected throughout the hurricane season and beyond.

Vince Plummer is the head of Facilities Management and Technical Operations at Digicel. He has over 15 years’ experience in the field, and specialises in ensuring comfort, safety and efficiency in the built environment by integrating people, processes and technology. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.