Formulating a Bullet-Proof Incident Response Plan

planning meeting for disaster response

When it comes to planning for the company’s future, it’s not enough to think only in terms of potential business plans for increasing revenue. Companies have to think about logistical disasters that could knock the company completely off course—if not shut it down altogether. For this reason, facilities managers should always make it a goal to discuss incident response plans with other departments.

Essentials for Leading a Discussion on Incident Risks

In preparation for your discussion, make sure that you consider the elements listed below. Put them on the meeting agenda!

1. Qualitative Analysis and Risk Evaluation

Qualitative analysis can be a good starting point for the discussion. Evaluate which assets are the most critical to the company’s operations and what could potentially affect them. These can differ from business to business, but electricity, Internet, and HVAC are generally important to all facilities. Once you’ve done that, consider any worst-case scenarios that could cause any of them to fail. Cyber security threats, natural disasters, security breaches, etc. Is the company prepared with emergency power generators or batteries in case of electrical failure? Discuss the issues that you see occurring from a facilities perspective. Ask participants to explain how they see these risks affecting their own department, and possibly spreading to other departments, as well.

2. Quantitative Analysis

Qualitative analysis won’t be enough, though. Once you’ve described the possible effects, move into the possible numbers. For everyone to understand the impact of the problems mentioned above, the discussion should include a review of revenue and hours that can be lost. What would the cost be if the company didn’t institute a policy requiring emergency drills to be run on a periodic basis? How many employees would be affected if poor maintenance led to mechanical issues, completely halting the company’s production?

3. Executive Buy-In

Of course, these numbers will be useful in gaining executive buy-in. If the team finds that the current plan needs updates that will cost the company money, like special training for employees or new equipment, the numbers can help convince executives that these changes are essential. Because what sounds more convincing: “A fire could damage our bottom line” or “A fire could decrease revenue by 36 percent and put 1,200 employees out of work?”

4. Diverse Perspectives

diversity of perspectives in disaster planning scenario

A range of senior managers from different departments should be invited to the planning. These should include legal, human resources, IT, PR, facilities and maintenance. The range of viewpoints and experiences will help you build a much stronger incident response plan. But don’t stop there. Mary K. Pratt writes on that you should also keep secondary players in mind for your plan, too. “Identify the key suppliers and service groups most likely to play a part during a crisis,” Pratt writes.

5. Insurance Considerations

Another point to think about: Does the office’s physical surroundings pose any potential threats to business? If so, purchasing special insurance—even for rare occurrences—can be a sharp move. For example, in 1995 Logan International Airport in Boston had the foresight to purchase snow-removal insurance. Because it did, a $400,000 investment resulted in a $2 million return after Boston experienced more than eight feet of snowfall.

6. Find Vendors

Take the time to speak with different vendors and learn what their process is. Emergency planner Cathy Anthofer encourages asking questions like, “What can the vendor provide in the midst of an emergency? How can a vendor provide those services or those materials or that equipment, despite the fact that the emergency may impact their business, as well?” Connecting with vendors well ahead of the emergency can help you handle the problem much more efficiently.

7. The Plan

For disaster preparation, every company should have an emergency plan including a list of emergency responders’ numbers and an evacuation strategy. FMs should also have a map showing the location of things like the utility shutoffs, water hydrants, fire extinguishers, etc. If you manage more than one location, be sure to have updated maps for each site so you’ll know exactly how to direct others trying to navigate the area. 

8.  Assigned Responsibilities & Staff Participation

fire extinguisher emergency response disaster

Each staff member should understand his or her own role in the disaster response. Otherwise, the results could be costly. Jeffrey Camplin, president of Camplin Environmental Services, Inc. recalls one “case where a contractor was injured during a fire evacuation. The building-management firm was being sued by this individual because the plan was not implemented as designed.” To avoid the same fate, hold training sessions outlining the proper behavior in the face of disaster.

Settling responsibilities ahead of time will prevent confusion and inaction that could make the situation even worse. Joe Brennan, Ohio University’s Executive Director of Communications and Marketing puts it well. “In a crisis, a CIO can't run around and say, 'Hey, do I have permission to do this?' A public relations person can't run around and say, 'Who's going to approve my release?'"

9. Review and Refine

Hold practice drills to see if there are any hiccups in your plan. The hour of disaster is the worst time to discover any flaws in your evacuation procedure. By practicing ahead of time, you may find logistical issues that you never would have thought of otherwise. Take the time to review and refine your plan every year, to account for changes to the office—new assets, different floor setups, renovated areas, etc.

When preparing for disaster, there’s no such thing as being too cautious. Try to think of every possible scenario that could put the building and its occupants in danger, and decide how you would respond. With any luck, you’ll never have to put your plans in place…but in case you do, you’ll be glad you prepared beforehand. 

Office Design Trends

Incident response plans are a form of insurance that can save the day in the face of disaster. Take the time to go over every possible detail with a team of managers from different departments, using the tips listed above. While it may be a drawn-out process, it could save the company from what could turn into very dark days for everyone involved. 

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