We have all heard flight attendants tell us about the safety precautions to be used in an emergency. Parents place oxygen masks on themselves first and then, and only then, place a mask on your child.
The principle is a simple one. You cannot help others if you are in need of help yourself.
The potential threats these days are many–increased hurricane and tornado activity, pandemic bird flu, dam failure, or a biological, chemical, nuclear or radiological attack. And, to perform the important responsibilities of insurance professionals and meet the health, financial and retirement security needs of your clients, your business must remain operational during these potential emergencies. While some disruptions are unavoidable, adequate preparation can prevent some closures and shorten others.
The material appearing in this article is meant to provide general information only and not as a substitute for legal advice. Readers who want legal advice about emergency preparedness should talk to attorneys.
But, clearly, insurance industry professionals should be thinking about this topic.
Develop a plan.
Organization and planning are the keys to successfully weathering business disruptions. There should be a group within the organization responsible for developing a written plan and monitoring potential events.
Information is power. You must remain informed on a continuous basis. Someone must be tasked with the specific responsibility to monitor potential threats and keep others advised accordingly. Another person should be designated as a secondary monitor.
In Florida, for example, during hurricane season everyone has a weather link on their computer’s “favorites” list. Everyone is an “expert.” Nonetheless, there should be a person or group tasked with responsibility to monitor the potential threat and initiate discussion of certain decisions for the organization.
Who will decide when to leave the premises, or when to re-enter after the event has concluded? Who will protect critical equipment? Who will take charge if some key personnel cannot be present at the office? Recall the disruption after Sept. 11, 2001, when all air traffic was grounded for a period of days. Should there be (or when there is, as some health officials say) an influenza pandemic, executives may be similarly stranded.
Test the plan.
There must be employee training on the new policy and full scale practice runs or drills. Just as hospitals must conduct missing or abducted baby “Code Pink” drills to retain their accreditation, and chemical industry businesses must drill for accidental leaks, each business must address its most likely risks.
Staying calm and avoiding uncertainty is critical. Practice and communication of a clear and consistent message is important. How do people stay in touch during and after the storm? Telephone trees, with redundant confirmatory calls from the bottom to the top, must be developed and tested.
If a business closure cannot be avoided, then reopening becomes a priority, with minimal damage to the infrastructure of the business. Being proactive often means having more time to adequately respond.
Remember the lessons of Katrina and Wilma.