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How to keep the office in business-as-usual shape after any kind of disaster

How disaster-prepared is the business side of your office?

Although large organizations often have good disaster preparedness programs, small to mid-sized offices usually don’t. And sadly, because they usually have only one location, they are the ones who suffer most when business is interrupted.

Here are some tips that will help you prepare for a disaster and get your business up and running quickly afterwards.

The biggie is the data

The biggest failure happens with the data. While most offices backup their data, few know how or where they will run those backups if the system is not operating.

Searching for equipment with compatible software can interrupt business for as long as several weeks.

Set up a replacement strategy. And in doing so, be aware that different types of disasters create different types of problems. With a fire, for example, the office may be able to replace the system immediately. But in a widespread disaster such as a flood, replacement will take longer because so many other businesses will be getting replacements too.

Set up an agreement with the vendor that allows you to use their equipment. Or, if the office has more than one location, establish procedures for using equipment at the other site.

But have a plan ready to go so there’s no time lost dealing with the vendor or figuring out how to work around operations at the other site.

Next, critical resources

Keep a list of vendor contact information. List the sources of supplies and equipment that may need to be replaced or repaired. Then list sources to call if the regular vendors are also affected by the disaster.

And—something few offices think to do—identify staff critical to the operation and tell them the office will depend on them to work if a disaster occurs.

The protections to have on hand

Decide what protective items to keep on hand.

The best one is also the least inexpensive. It’s a roll of plastic to cover the computers and provide speedy protection from water damage that could occur if the sprinklers go off.

Also plan for specific types of disasters your area may be apt to see. In areas prone to hurricanes, for example, you may want to have a supply of pre-cut boards to cover the windows.

Plan for three weeks

As for how long your systems may be down, experts recommend you plan for three weeks. It’s in those first 21 days that most businesses fail because they can’t survive revenue loss for that long.

To avoid that fate, identify everything that has to be done in any three-week span and figure out some way to complete those tasks.

All that’s really necessary for a business to survive is to keep revenue flowing so the office can keep its doors open. That means getting invoices out and getting them paid.

Search out the computer dangers

Now look around for potential computer disasters lurking in the office.

One is where the data is stored. Companies put their data rooms in the worst places, most notably right under the overhead water pipes.

Another computer danger is the power supply. The equipment may have an uninterrupted power supply, but that supply is going to quit after a few hours.

A generator is one answer. But usually the most viable alternative is to use equipment at another location.

Plan for fire survival

Office buildings see about 35,000 fires every year and the greatest damage usually comes, not from the fire itself, but from water damage from sprinklers.

Thus, the office needs to have a document restoration company lined up. And along with that, it needs insurance to cover overtime as well as the cost of replacing furniture and equipment.

A fireproof safe is also a good idea although it is important to check the heat rating before buying one. Some safes can only hold off flames up to the kindling point of paper, which is low. If the office plans to store tapes in the safe, it needs a higher rating.

Weight is also a concern. Before buying a safe, ask building management what the floor can support.

Then look for the fire hazards

Many offices store flammable items such as Christmas decorations in electrical source rooms and all it takes is one spark.

Overstocked supply rooms are equally dangerous because paper is combustible. If a fire hits that area it may spread quickly and be difficult to put out.

Keep the cleaning supplies, particularly those containing ammonia, out of traffic areas. Do the same with the copier toner, which can damage a person’s lungs if inhaled.

Fire drills are important. So is reminding people to pick up their keys and purses when exiting so they won’t forget should a real fire occur.

Clear the exit routes

Then there is general office safety planning to do.

Start by keeping paths to the exits clear.

If there are cabinets in the halls, bolt them to the walls to keep them from falling on people—a particular risk in earthquake prone areas like the West Coast.

And injuries aside, falling cabinets can block the exits. They can also trap somebody in a cubicle.

Look, too, for items that could fall on people, such as books and plants stored on tall shelves.

From there, make sure the exit signs are clear. Anybody not familiar with the office may need directions for getting out, and often the illustrations showing exits aren’t drawn from the perspective of the person standing there.

From time to time, check that the office’s emergency lighting is working.

Stairwells also warrant attention. In a fire, the doors should lock automatically from the inside so people can get to the stairs but not exit onto a burning floor.

What people don’t know, however, is to stay to the right on the stairs so the other side is clear for firefighters coming up.

The office also needs to know how to assist people with special physical needs. They should be the last ones to leave so they won’t block the exit for other people, particularly in the stairwell.

It’s also a good idea to assign a buddy to each employee with special needs so they can help that person get out.

The emergency contact list

Keep a list of each employee’s family members so they can be contacted if someone is injured. Collect addresses too in case phones are down and a family member must be contacted.

Appoint someone to be in charge of keeping the information current and ensure all lawyers and managers have a copy.

Plan for first aid

Emergency responders may not be available immediately, so decide who will be in charge of administering first aid.

Inspect your first aid supplies. Every office needs the basics, including bandages and gloves, but also consider your office’s location. In areas where there are tornadoes, or help is far away, it may be wise to store emergency water, food, and blankets.

For detailed information, check out the American Red Cross website at

Also make sure the supplies are stored where they can be accessed after the disaster. For example, some West Coast companies keep earthquake emergency supplies in containers outside the building, reasoning that people will have to exit the building quickly and won’t be able to take the supplies with them.

Who calls for evacuation?

Finally, someone needs to be responsible for deciding when to evacuate the building. Ordinarily, that responsibility falls to the building manager, but the office needs to have someone on board such as the manager or the senior partner who will make the decision if the building manager isn’t available.

It’s important someone be in charge or valuable evacuation time get will be lost while people sit around and wait for somebody to tell them to leave.

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