Recent unfortunate events in our nation lead us to reflect these past two weeks on the important issue of disaster preparedness.
First, yet another fire incident occurred in one of the major makerspaces and markets, which raised concern of how best this can be mitigated.
There is naturally cause for concern when a business space suffers a recurring catastrophe. A little after the fire, the eastern part of the nation succumbed to the destructive effects of a cyclone, that decimated homesteads, schools, and also local businesses.
Certainly, this was an act over which no one had control and at best its effects were speculated on, but the general agreement is that should such future incidents occur there must be preparedness.
Small businesses must be vigilant and be ready to handle floods, fire, riots, chemical explosion and any other disaster that may come their way. After such an occurrence, a business may never be the same again, and may struggle into perpetuity, while some will shut down for good.
Conversely, a business that is proactive may recover a former position and do even better in the aftermath of a disaster.
The effects of a disaster are known — damage to physical property, buildings, equipment, stock, harm to self and/or employees, disruption of business and loss of income. It is important to put in place measures before the day of trouble to counter each of these. Here are the key elements to cover in case of such emergencies.
The “human element” must always lead — people in a business are the best asset. They understand the nuts and bolts of the business and probably have institutional memory of where the company came from. The business owner too is one of those important people. As such it is necessary to take measures to protect them in case of a disaster.
Ensure the workspace has evacuation maps showing the fastest and safest ways to exit should there be an incident, people must be taught what to do and there must be consistent practice through scheduled drills.
Also compile a readily accessible list of important telephone and mobile numbers of the police, fire brigade, local authorities, ambulance services, hospitals and your business legal advisors.
Staff would need to be taught who to reach out to for each incident and how to communicate the situation. There is also value in teaching them basic first aid.
Assess the risks of the business starting with the location and areas of vulnerability. A business located in hilly terrain as was the case in this cyclone incident will face specific risks — rocks falling, mudslides; while a business near water features will be exposed to potential flooding or toxic poisoning if hazardous material is dumped in the water.
There are risks that come with a location near the highway, if a road traffic accident were to occur, the business can be physically damaged by vehicles, or suffer secondary damage by a resultant fire.
The weather patterns of a business location also matter, very dry and hot areas could easily spread a fire. These are big natural disasters, but it must also be said that there are always potential day-to-day disasters that can ruin a small business too such as workplace accidents.
Workplace safety, health and environmental management require investment by business owners. Bring in the necessary experts to assess, recommend protective and preventive measures rather than to react when disaster strikes.
In addition to preparing staff and putting in place physical measures, it is also useful to do the boring work of taking inventory. This can include several tiers, the usual written inventory, in which you note the serial and file numbers of all hardware and software; a soft copy of the inventory put in the cloud as well as a movable hard drive, complete photo documentation of the company’s equipment; and even a video narrative of the contents of each room.
Insurance will be much easier when you have clear records of what equipment, furniture and furnishings you own. Protect other important files such as accounting records, marketing plans, insurance forms and other data needed to run your business.
You can make copies that are stored far from the present location, in safe custody or with a bank vault. Every workplace ought to cover the tangible and intangible assets that it owns, as well as covering the staff and owner in case of disability from workplace injury or even death.
Staff have families that may require financial support should there be incidents that cause bodily injury and affect the ability to generate income.
High risk sectors of business such as mining, construction and agriculture must particularly pay attention to this. Good insurance cover may not restore everything lost, but some cover is better than no cover at all.
Also important is developing a communications plan that kicks in when an incident does occur, perhaps a fire, accident or flooding that results in the business shutting down temporarily.
Clients, especially the loyal, long term ones, that use your goods and services consistently, will appreciate clear and timely communication.
Have a pre-set template for explaining the present situation, and delivering the message to them as soon as possible. This is why it is necessary to keep a ready database of clients and also have a mailing list through which you can send emails, or short messages to mobile phones.
Depending on the nature of business it may be needful to flight radio and television announcements that brief clients on your present ordeal, and the arrangements you will have made for a temporary location.
This will allow you to stay in business while you sort out the business and have the sympathy and goodwill of clients until you can reopen.
Poor and/or late communication opens the door to speculation and this is easily amplified in the social media era, fake news will be difficult to undo.
On this you are always better off proactive than reactive, clients will move on to other providers if they are unaware what happened to you but simply find a shop closed or numbers unreachable.
None of us can predict when accidents and incidents may occur, nor the scale at which damage will happen, but sound business people must be aware and prepared for such a day. Take time at the end of this month to candidly review the situation in your business, and make the necessary corrective arrangements to protect it.
Feedback: Email – kudzi @investorsaint.co.zw, Twitter – @kedukudzi