08/29/2014 11:01 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

Will Your Business Recover From Disaster?

The massive 6.0 earthquake in San Francisco on Sunday is another reminder that Mother Nature doesn't play by the rules, so we'd all better be prepared for the unexpected. If disaster struck five seconds from now, are you ready? Are your employees?

You should be. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and for those that do, only 29 percent were still operating after two years. And guess what likely becomes of those that lost their information technology for nine days or more after a disaster? Bankruptcy within a year.

As it happens, September is National Preparedness Month, so the timing is perfect for company leaders, corporate philanthropy managers and individuals everywhere to examine their awareness and plans to handle the full range of disasters, whether natural or man-made.

Throughout September, the FEMA is sponsoring National Preparedness Month to educate the public about how to prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters, mass casualties, biological and chemical threats, radiation emergencies, and terrorist attacks. which features activities across the country to promote emergency preparedness. More than 3,000 organizations -- national, regional, and local public and private organizations -- are supporting emergency preparedness efforts and encouraging all Americans to take action.

During September, emergency preparedness will focus on four key areas:

For businesses, FEMA suggests preparing for the myriad disasters that they could face, including:

Natural hazards
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Widespread serious illnesses such as the H1N1 flu virus pandemic
Human-caused hazards
  • Accidents
  • Acts of violence by people
  • Acts of terrorism
Technology-related hazards
  • Failure or malfunction os systems, equipment or software

How does rigorous disaster planning pay off? Take the example of Morgan Stanley. In 1993, when terrorists first attacked the World Trade Center, Morgan Stanley wasn't satisfied with the four hours that it took to evacuate its employees. The company developed a multi-faceted emergency plan and practiced the plan frequently. This ended up paying off when terrorists struck again on September 11, 2001. Immediately after the attacks, Morgan Stanley employees were ordered to evacuate the towers and did so in 45 minutes.

The company also offered grief counseling to its employees, increased its security presence, and used effective communication strategies to provide timely information to management and employees, investors and clients, and regulators and the media. While 12 of its people did perish in the disaster, many more could have died had Morgan Stanley not had a solid disaster plan in place that it practiced frequently.

FEMA's website offers plentiful tools directed specifically towards businesses to help them prepare for all of the hazards they might face. The recommendation is to follow five steps of a preparedness plan:

Program Management
  • Organize, develop and administer your preparedness program
  • Identify regulations that establish minimum requirements for your program
  • Gather information about hazards and assess risks
  • Conduct a business impact analysis (BIA)
  • Examine ways to prevent hazards and reduce risks
Implementation - Write a preparedness plan addressing:
  • Resource management
  • Emergency response
  • Crisis communications
  • Business continuity
  • Information technology
  • Employee assistance
  • Incident management
  • Training
Testing and Exercises
  • Test and evaluate your plan
  • Define different types of exercises
  • Learn how to conduct exercises
  • Use exercise results to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan
Program Improvement
  • Identify when the preparedness program needs to be reviewed
  • Discover methods to evaluate the preparedness program
  • Utilize the review to make necessary changes and plan improvement

Of course disaster preparedness doesn't begin and end within the four walls of a business. For the general public the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has worked with the American Red Cross to answer basic questions about preparing for unexpected events, including:

Developing a family disaster plan
Gathering emergency supplies
Learning how to shelter in place
Understanding quarantine and isolation
Learning how to maintain a healthy state of mind

The CDC strongly recommends taking four basic steps in order to be prepared for emergencies:

In your personal life and business life, it's vital that you're prepared for the worst. At Causecast, we deploy disaster relief campaigns to help businesses demonstrate compassionate leadership after disaster strikes. If everyone was rigorous about disaster planning, relief efforts would go much further.

If your company would like to launch a disaster preparedness campaign in conjunction with National Preparedness Month, please contact us.