The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were a wake-up call to the kinds of dangers that still face America, including American businesses. In the months and years following the attacks, companies nationwide took steps to ratchet up security and emergency preparedness, in the event that they might someday be impacted directly by an attack or other major disaster.
For instance, an often-cited survey conducted by the Hartford Financial Services Group found that security measures instituted or improved on by companies resulted in a drastic drop in the number of unauthorized visitors entering workplaces. However, the same survey concluded that, as time passed, companies relaxed their newfound post-attack security consciousness. Emergency preparedness gaps are particularly apparent in smaller businesses.
A terrorist attack, of course, is not the only type of emergency a company might face. Natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards), fires, and power outages all can endanger employee security and stymie business operations. The extent to which a company is prepared for such events can mean the difference between being able to continue operations, and shutting down. According to the American Red Cross, as many as 40% of small businesses do not reopen after a major disaster.
According to the Hartford survey, the top workplace safety threat continues to be that posed by unauthorized entries into a business. Employers can take a number of actions to reduce the number of unauthorized entries. For example, they can: check that all entry doors have working locks; reduce the number of entry points, and have all of them set up so that individuals coming in through them must pass by a receptionist or other staffed workstation; implement photo IDs for employees; require that visitors sign in and wear visitor badges; and establish procedures that receptionists can use to inconspicuously signal that they need help (such as a call button).
Companies also must be prepared for emergencies that confine employees inside the building, such as a blizzard, or a situation involving outside release of a chemical or biological agent. Among the items businesses should ensure they have on hand are a supply of bottled water and nonperishable food; flashlights and batteries; a battery-powered radio; a landline phone that can operate without electricity; and first-aid supplies. Detailed lists of suggested “in case of an emergency” items for businesses can be found on the Web site of the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org).
Other steps businesses should take to prepare for disaster situations include:
- Establish emergency evacuation routes and conduct regular emergency evacuation drills.
- Copy or back up important, valuable, or irreplaceable documents, and store these off site.
- Keep an up-to-date list of contact information for employees, customers, suppliers, distributors, and professional service providers (e.g., insurance agent, accountant, lawyer), and store this list off site.
- Establish procedures for handling suspicious mail. * If the nature of the business permits, formulate a plan for continuing operations from an alternate site.
- Make sure that the insurance coverages held by the business are appropriate and adequate, and store a copy of the policies off site.
Depending on a company’s location and the nature of its business, it might be more or less susceptible to certain risks than others. Our insurance brokers are an excellent source for help in evaluating your company’s risk profile and for learning about business safety and emergency preparedness programs. Another source for emergency preparedness ideas and risk assessment is Open for Business: A Disaster Planning Toolkit for the Small Business Owner, by the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) and the U.S. Small Business Administration. This publication can be accessed at the IBHS Web site, www.disastersafety.org.