How to plan for emergency: Create a manual

This article first appeared in The Remodelers Journal.

After Christopher Wright, CR, owner of WrightWorks LLC in Indianapolis, hired a new office manager with a corporate background, she pushed him to put together an emergency plan.

“I’m still very integral to the day-to-day operation of the business,” Wright says. “So she wanted to know, for example, if I got hit by a truck, who would write the checks?”

The sections in the plan are a culmination of Wright’s conversations with his office manager, about what events they might need to plan for (like the office being gutted by a fire), as well as extensive searching online for what other companies were including in their emergency plans.

Data access and protection were the first areas they considered, having identified several events that could potentially cut them off from information key to day-to-day operations. In those cases, they’d need back-ups and remote access capability. Wright looked at several cloud-based options and decided on Dropbox, which provides 2G of free storage space and the option to upgrade if necessary. A key feature for Wright is the ability to access his Dropbox folders with mobile devices and share them with key staff.

Some of the items Wright stores on Dropbox include project files, contact lists, accounting files, insurance information and project pictures.

“Our portfolio of photos are very valuable to me,” Wright says. “I consider them an asset, and it would be devastating if I lost them.”

In addition to the online back-up, Wright has a few portable hard drives as well. The emergency plan has milestones set up to review back-ups to make sure they’re all working and that data has been updated.

The sections of the WrightWorks emergency plan include:

  • Introduction
  • Emergency chain of command and updates
  • Business continuity
  • Emergency contacts
  • Banking, insurance, payroll
  • Emergency notification of employees and clients
  • Employee injuries
  • Computer data and records protection
  • Website and social media management
  • Natural disasters
  • Emergency business facilities
  • Theft and vandalism
  • Company-owned property inventory
  • Emergency sales plan

Many of the sections overlap, Wright says, because they cover a variety of scenarios—some that can be predicted and some they might not have imagined yet. For instance, with a natural disaster—which could also impact both the offices and the job sites—there are procedures for temporary office arrangements, who contacts the employees and clients and who makes key decisions should Wright or another key team member be out of the country or otherwise unreachable. The emergency manual empowers his staff to make decisions by planning for as many contingencies as possible in advance.

By brainstorming beforehand, Wright was able to cover a variety of scenarios that would require different decisions to be made and different points of contact.

“if there is a theft on a homeowner’s property, who do you call, whose insurance do you report it to? Who do you contact if tools are stolen from the job site—different rules apply depending on the policy,” Wright says, “I don’t think you can predict ever possible event, but at least there’s enough information to generate questions that people can answer.”

The process of going through this helped Wright identify several issues that might arise in worst-case scenario.

For instance, Wright has granted his father and his wife power of attorney, to act on his behalf for the business if he’s say, in a coma and unable to act for himself. When his office manager presented this information to the company’s bank, she and Wright found out that power of attorney would not be enough for the bank to allow someone to access the WrightWorks accounts. So now his wife is on the accounts as a signatory, so in case of emergency, she can sign checks for the business.

Another interesting section of the manual is the final one—the emergency sales plan. It’s not instructions on how to sell WrightWorks’ assets. Instead, it’s instructions for WrightWorks staff on how they can continue to sell if Wright is out of the picture for an extended period of time.

Wright says a lot of his staff is cross-trained, but sales is still a role primarily filled by himself. This section advises WrightWorks on the key people to approach to find more business for the company—like designers they’ve worked with in the past or former clients—and how to do so.

“These are people they’ll be comfortable selling to—the low-lying fruit,” Wright says. “They already know how to price projects and what our margins need to be. This gets them going in the right direction if they need to quickly generate work with me out of the picture.”

Although Wright had to be prompted more than a few times to sit down and tackle this project, he found it to be a valuable experience.

“As small business owners, most of us spend our early years filling every roll,” he says. “We overcome problems and challenges through our own personal power and resourcefulness, and thus become very attached to being in control. We’re the ones who have all the details floating around in our heads and that unfortunately becomes a big obstacle to growth.

“This process was an opportunity to identify some of the information I need to put in my team’s hands so they can grow and make decisions on their own.”

Read the other two stories in the series:

| 3/21/2012 12:00:00 AM | 7 comments
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