Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 22:

This episode, “Workplace Preparedness,” interviews Bob Boyd, president and CEO of Agility Recovery, a company that develops disaster preparedness plans for the workplace and business continuity solutions. By Teddi Dineley Johnson, reporter with The Nation’s Health.

Good morning, Bob, thanks for being with us today.
Thank you very much. It’s great to be here with you today.

Bob, why do businesses need to be ready for disasters?
Well, having a business continuity plan or a preparedness plan will help protect that organization. If an interruption impacts that business or the community that business operates in, having that plan is going to ensure that the business can bounce back as quickly as possible. It’s going to provide that map, if you will, that’s going to enable the company to overcome any kind of interruption whether that’s a hurricane or a burst pipe and take care of your employees, your customers, your vendors. There’s some really very disturbing realities that face businesses who don’t have a plan, and aren’t prepared. FEMA, the Red Cross, and many others would say that if a business doesn’t have a plan and suffers an interruption nearly 70 percent of those businesses won’t survive in two years. At Agility, we did our own survey and 65 percent of the businesses don’t have a plan today so obviously those two realities are coming together to cause a problem for businesses today.

What kinds of businesses need to be ready?
Well, all businesses need to be ready and have a plan and historically only the largest of large companies had a robust, testable executable preparedness plan in place. I think many small, medium sized businesses felt like it was going to be too expensive or too time consuming and many think you need to have some expertise to get prepared, and that’s just not true. There are lots of things business can do to be prepared for those things.

What are the more common disasters affecting businesses in the United States?
That’s a great question and typically everybody thinks about disaster and disaster recovery and having one in place in terms of those kinds of large regional events that occur. You know, hurricanes, we just had Hurricane Irene or the earthquake that hit the East Coast or the forest fires and those kinds of things. Clearly, when those happen, they impact thousands (millions in some cases) of employees, residents, and businesses and what not. And if you’re in an area that is susceptible to those things, you have to be prepared to deal with them. I’d caution business people to say that most interruptions that businesses experience aren’t due to those large natural events because 70 percent of the interruptions that we help businesses out with are due to isolated things, you know, a burst pipe in your office, a piece of technology that fails, a power outage those kinds of things. Those literally happen every day across our country and so we really caution businesses that you need to have a plan to deal with, those large very visible weather channel type things as well as those every day things that can occur.

Disasters happen all the time in our changing world. How can businesses be ready for anything that comes their way?
Well, that’s a fantastic question and I want to give maybe five quick steps that I think any business can take and they don’t have to spend any money on these things but if they do them, they’ll find themselves in a better position so let me walk through those steps.

The first thing I would tell businesses to do is that you need to assess your risks; you need to figure out both internal and external risks that your business is susceptible to. What are the things, again, that could happen because of geographically where your business is located. Are you in a hurricane prone district, or a winter weather area, or an earthquake fault line? Clearly if you are you need to take steps to prepare for those things. You also need to look at things that could occur from just where the nature of your business.

Are you in a high rise tower in a downtown urban setting, or are you the sole tenant of a single story building? Those things are going to impact how you can recover, from maybe some of the changes you can put in place, maybe some of the plan you operate in. And also look at, you know, who your neighbors are. Are they doing anything that could be a threat or a risk, and that could be a good thing maybe you’re near a hospital meaning you’re on a good power grid and your power may come back quickly, so assessing your risks will enable you to kind of figure out what do I need to prepare for most and first.

The second thing we would tell a business person to do is to really look at your business organization. What are the functions or duties or things that have to get done inside your business, and then try to prioritize those. Which are most critical, what has to come back first and what can come back last and if you do that you’re then going to be able to put together a plan so that you know the most important things we concentrate to get up and running first and maybe we can postpone, maybe, “accounts payable” because I’m not going to pay a lot of the bills because of the disaster; I’m going to hold off on those for a week or so. So that’s going to be the second thing we recommend businesses do.

The next thing we would do is tell you to look at your vendors, suppliers, and partners because you could have, and we’ve seen this time and time again, where we’ve had members be impacted because there’s an interruption at one of their key vendors and something happens in their supply chain or their partnership levels and what not, that has a direct impact on their organization and so ask your key partners what are their plans. Get comfortable with what they’re doing and how they’re going to get back up and if you can’t, maybe look for an alternative provider. Not that you have to shift your buying patterns or who your partners are, but you know where you would go if “company A” failed and couldn’t provide those services for you. So having that established is a really important thing.

The fourth thing I would tell businesses to do is they have to put together a communication plan; they have to have multiple ways they can communicate with their stakeholders and there may be a variety of different tools. Think about things other than using your cell phone to make phone calls because the cell networks may not be available, your land line phones may not work. Have things, use things such as social media. Take advantage of things such as Twitter, Facebook and those kinds of things. Have an alert notification system so you can send out text messages and email messages that are outside your network. Know who your local news stations and radio stations are so that you can use them to broadcast if you’re open later or close earlier or what not and communicate effectively. Most importantly, appoint somebody in your company to be the spokesperson so everybody in your organization knows who’s going to talk, what they are going to say, how they’re going to say it and you don’t have everybody in your organization communicating different stories out to the public.

And the last thing I would tell businesses they need to think about is to plan for an alternative workplace. Everybody thinks well I’ve worked here for 20 years we’re just fine, you need to think about where you would go if that building, for whatever reason, wasn’t available. Maybe there’s a flood, or there’s a fire, or they find black mold or the power goes out in it where would you go? And there are lots of options. Some of them you don’t have to spend a nickel on. You could have a reciprocal relationship from a friend of yours. You could have a secondary location that you have and you’ve made arrangements to use it, you could plan a telecommuting, you could have the ability to access other space, a cold site a hot site, mobile office space, but thinking through those things will give you the tools on how to prepare and any business can do those and none of them cost money.

What are a cold site and a hot site?
There may be a business out there that would say I need to have instant availability to space and so a hot site would be where they would take down space from somebody that would be outfitted with desks and chairs and computers and network access and phone access that would be empty and they can go to it at any given time and so it’s available space on an instantaneous basis. A cold site would be access to space but maybe not populated with all that technology so maybe it would take them 12 hours or 24 hours to get the technology and connectivity into those sites but they’ve already pre-identified what the spaces are so they’re just varying degrees of access to space and resources that that the business might have and its going to be dictated by, again, that first thing I said is what are those critical functions and how fast do they need to come back up.

What about emergency supplies? What emergency supplies should a company keep on hand and how often should the supplies be rotated and where should they be stored?
Those are great questions and there’s really two kinds of emergency supply kits that I recommend people have access to. One is a personal kit for your home, one is for your business and the business kit needs to contain a couple things. It needs to contain all those things; again  if you had to go operate someplace else what do you need to have there at that other space to work out of like contact lists, your customer lists, important records. Things to think about having access to are your software keys or licenses because you’ll be able to reload those that onto new technology and have that system up and running. Copies of things like your insurance policies, a list of your fixed assets, cash is critically important because in many cases if a disaster is a widespread disaster, having credit cards doesn’t do you any good because people can’t take the credit cards so having some cash on hand is really important. Things that you may have to have in a business seals, stamps, those kind of things, just those things that you would need to be able to operate in another place you need to have in a kit someplace.

You also need to think through things like first aid kits if there’s people in your office that are on regular medicine you may want to make sure they have access and supplies to medicine and those sorts of things. A lot of businesses are stockpiling things like food and water and those kinds of things thinking I need to be able to provide for my employees for that first 72 hours, and so those are all really good things to have.

Let’s talk about the 2009 flu outbreak. What did the flu outbreak teach business owners and managers about the need to be prepared?
Well, the 2009…flu (epidemic) was a mixed blessing in many different cases. On the positive side it was another one of those visible highly covered stories which really stressed the need for businesses to get a plan. At the time if you remember the CDC was talking about those potential of 40 to 50 percent of work forces being unavailable because they may come down with H1N1 and so businesses really needed to think through what would they do if 40 to 50 percent of the workforce wasn’t there? How were they going to staff and rotate that work and manage and get the functions done. And so it forced us as business owners and operators, you know, to think through those plans and develop those policies. If you get sick do I have the right to make you go home? Do I send anybody else home? Are those paid days/unpaid days? Do I make your sick days vacation days, you know, thinking through those things in kind of the calm rational light of the day means you’re going to make better decisions. If you do it when you develop the swine flu you’re probably not going to make great decisions, and so that’s part of the planning that’s a really good thing and I think it forced us to take a step. On the negative side we all remember the H1N1 didn’t turn out to be as bad as we thought it was and so I worry about people getting overwhelmed by this information thinking, well you know they always talk about these things developing and are enveloped and so maybe the next time somebody talks about the flu we don’t think it’s going to be so bad because the H1N1 wasn’t bad and then it turns out to be really bad. So I think we have to be worried about the fatigue effect of some of these large events but clearly I think it forced us to get prepared and think through some of those policies.
Many companies are small and have fewer than maybe 20 or even 10 employees.

Can you just go through some no cost or fairly inexpensive measures that small business owners and managers can take to increase their employee safety in the event of a disaster?
Yeah, I think there’s a couple things they should do; One, there’s some great websites. Preparemybusiness.org is a great site the SBA and Agility have put that up that has a lot of great templates and checklists that any business can take advantage of and they’re free. There’s no cost to them, nobody is going to call you and try to sell to you, it’s just a really great starting kind of basic template of information. Create those plans, create those emergency plans, create those communication plans. Test those plans, involve your employees in the test, find out where your plans fail in the assumptions that you made that maybe weren’t great assumptions and improve that process. Just like you do fire drills, test some of these plans. And when you do test those include your staff in them. Make them be part of it; try to push down this concept of preparedness including your staff. If you do they’re going to feel engaged in it and you’re going to have a much more successful outcome.

How can employers work with staff to encourage preparedness?
Well, one I think it’s really important to get your staff involved in the development of these plans and the testing of them. I think that also employers, and this is something I think is just now really beginning to start, is that employers can really push down this concept of preparedness down to that family level. As a business owner I want my employees to have a plan for themselves, I want them to be safe and secure and know what they’re going to do because they’re the biggest asset I have and so I want them to be able to come back to work. If they don’t come back to work I can do my functions. So engaging them and talking about the important stuff and helping them put together those plans and programs both at the business level and at the family level I think will create kind of this community involvement in planning.

What kind of practice drills and exercises should business managers and owners use to prepare employees?
Well, there’s a huge range of exercises that you can conduct. And they can range all the way from a simple table top exercise where you can bring your business people, your staff together, all of them in. Here’s a hypothetical situation: this happened today and what’s our plan say about how we’re going to respond, and walk through that. Take a couple hours, half a day with it. It’ll be fun there’s no pass/fail out of it if you’re just trying to walk through that process. You can do hardware tests, you can do data recovery tests, you can do connectivity tests, all those things. We have businesses that actually operate their entire businesses in our facilities for a week so they can know their plans actually work; there’s nothing like actually doing the work to know that it’s going to work.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d really like to thank you guys for the opportunity to talk about preparedness planning and disaster recovery. I’m convinced that if we can get all parts of our country at the community levels the business levels the family levels to think about preparedness planning, in many ways we can make our country immune to the threat of disasters and interruptions. Years ago smallpox, polio, and those kinds of things killed and injured millions of people and today they don’t exist. We wiped them out and I think we can do that same thing with interruptions. No business should go under because of interruptions; it’s just too simple to recover from those things so I think this is the first step in getting people prepared.

There a couple websites I can reference people to go to, to get information. FEMA.gov has got some great information on their site, ready.gov is a website put together by the government that is fantastic for community, business, and family planning. Preparemybusiness.org is the site I talked about before the SBA and Agility have put together. The redcross.org has a great site, and then my site is agilityrecovery.com that has good information about planning. But take those first steps, again don’t be scared of this it doesn’t take up a lot of time, it’s not going to cost a lot of money and you’re going to be a better business when you do it.

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