Plan For Disasters In Your Business: Think Like A Soldier

Over the last few weeks, the United States was hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, both of which caused terrible destruction. After seeing the aftermath of these storms being described as a “war zone“, it got me thinking about how businesses can plan for disasters like this. The “war zone” description of the affected areas also got me thinking about how a soldier plans a mission. Putting this information together can help any business “weather the storm”.

Disasters Can Strike Anywhere

You might be sitting in the middle of the United States thinking to yourself that a hurricane’s destruction can’t harm you. You’d probably be right, as a hurricane needs warm water to maintain its intensity.

However, not all disasters are hurricanes and it is still wise to plan for disasters.

Disasters can come from hurricanes, tornados, floods, snow storms, fires, hazardous waste spills, widespread power outages, and even acts of war or terrorism. Your company can also be the victim of theft or malicious individuals who steal or compromise data.

Come Up With A Plan for Disasters

In the Army, soldiers are given Operation Orders (OPORD) before any mission. These orders have answers to many of the questions a soldier might have regarding a mission.

  • A clear, concise statement of who is involved in the mission, what the mission is, where it will take place, when it will happen, why it is happening, and how it should be accomplished.
  • What do you do when you come in contact with the enemy? Fight, retreat, call in support?
  • Methods of communication, codewords, etc.
  • Available supplies and resupply.
  • Etc.

The purpose of the OPORD is to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It would be silly to have a commanding officer come up with a great plan and keep it all to himself, right? No one would know what he was thinking and likely end up doing the opposite.

The OPORD serves as a way to disseminate mission-critical information to everyone involved in a consistent, repeatable format.

Plan For Disasters In Your Business

At a minimum, you should be able to answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your plan in the event of a disaster.

  • Who is affected? Employees in the areas that were, or will be affected by the disaster.
  • What should they do? First and foremost get themselves and their family to a safe location. Attempt to preserve company data that may be in their possession if possible. Keep in communication with management when possible to let them know what your situation is.
  • Where should they go? Far enough away from the disaster area to be safe, yet not so far that it creates a burden on them or their families.
  • When should this plan go into effect? As soon as it is known with a reasonable degree of certainty that a disaster will strike the area that employees reside. If no advance warning is provided (i.e. terrorism), assess the situation to determine whether or not this plan needs to be executed.
  • Why is this plan in place? To maintain the safety of employees in a disaster area, and preserve company data that may be in their possession.
  • How should the plan be executed? The company will cover any travel expenses required to move the employee to a safe location. The employee will use their personal vehicle or public transportation, if available, to move out of the affected area.

Plan for Contingencies

You should also have a plan on how other employees will respond as well.

  • Who is affected? Employees outside of the area that was, or will be affected by the disaster.
  • What should they do? Attempt to retrieve information from the affected employees. Make sure the duties usually covered by affected employees are handled by other employees.
  • Where should they go? Stay where they are if the tasks can be done from their current location. If they need to relocate, identify areas that they can relocate to.
  • When should this plan go into effect? Before the disaster strikes if possible, otherwise immediately after.
  • Why is this plan in place? To maintain operations while a portion of the company’s employees are dealing with the disaster.
  • How should the plan be executed? Management will distribute a plan for who will cover which tasks. Identify how the plan will be distributed to employees.

There are pros and cons to having all of your employees in one location. If a disaster strikes, everyone will be geographically close enough to be able to communicate in person when traditional communications are wiped out. But, everyone is likely to be affected and no one will be available to pick up the slack.

When you plan for disasters, you may want to consider the geographic makeup of your employees. Is everyone in the same localized area, or are they spread out around the country, or around the world? This can make or break your disaster plan when you need employees and resources that are not affected by the disaster.

Be Flexible

If you’ve ever watched a military movie, you know that nothing ever goes according to plan. It’s a fairly accurate representation of real life too!

Fragmentary orders (FRAGO) are given to soldiers after the initial OPORD is given. It’s a less formal order that describes changes to the original plan.

For example, if the original OPORD called for 50 soldiers to go on a mission, but 10 were needed elsewhere, a FRAGO would be given saying that only 40 would be on the mission. All of the other details from the original OPORD would still apply.

Be Even More Flexible During/After a Disaster

In war, the following are always true:

  • Field experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.
  • If it’s stupid but works, it ain’t stupid.
  • No OPORD ever survives initial contact with the enemy.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect plan.
  • The problem with taking the easy way out is that the enemy has already mined it.

Your Business Needs to Adapt

If your plan asks affected employees to call someone with a status update, realize that it may be impossible for them to do so.

Often times in a disaster, cellular networks and even landlines are overloaded, but can still handle some communication. Sometimes the only option will be for the employee to send a text message or post an update to Twitter. These short messages are less taxing on the communication networks, and many phones will attempt to send once it has a signal.

When you plan for disasters, provide your employees with an updated list of communication methods that they should attempt in an emergency.

An example could include:

  • Phone numbers of all employees to call or text.
  • Email addresses that should be contacted.
  • Tweet their status with a special hashtag that the company can check.

Employees can work their way down the list of communication methods until they find one that works.

Communicate With Customers

Have a plan in advance for how you will keep your customers informed during and after the disaster.

Company Website

Create an information page on your website that can be turned on in the event of a disaster. On this page, let your customers know that you are not operating under normal circumstances and that your ability to serve them may be impacted. Some customers may not be aware of the disaster, or the severity of it, so this information will help prevent unnecessary frustration.

Include a way for customers to contact the company if necessary. A phone number, email address, or social media accounts can be effective.

List local emergency resources in case any of your customers are in the disaster area.

Social Media

Start posting to social media as soon as possible. Let customers know how your company is affected, and what you are doing about it.

Plan for Disasters of All Types

This list can’t possibly be complete because so many different types of disasters exist. At the same time, it likely has more disasters than you’ll need to plan for. However, it will give you some ideas as to what types of things you can plan for.

Natural disasters:

  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Avalanches/landslides
  • Sinkholes
  • Volcanoes
  • Blizzards
  • Thunderstorms
  • Heat waves
  • Solar flares

Man-Made Disasters

  • Hazardous waste spills
  • Blackouts
  • Nuclear power plant meltdown
  • Acts of war and terrorism
  • Cyber attacks
  • Civil unrest
  • Arson

Your Disaster Plan

What things have you done in your business to plan for disasters?

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Scott