It’s something people don’t like to think about, but does your office know what to do in case of an emergency? Whether it’s flooding, fire, hurricane, the flu, a terrorist attack, or something more arcane, the people in your office should know what to do.

It should go without saying that your office should already have a disaster recovery plan that helps protect the firm’s data and other records. This should enable the office to get back up and running quickly, either in its original location or in a backup location, perhaps through data stored in the cloud. But too often, companies don’t think about the more human side of a disaster.

Remember that your company’s most important resource is its people. The first step in any emergency situation should be to track down all the employees. “Consider setting up a telephone calling tree, a password-protected page on the company website, an email alert or a call-in voice recording to communicate with employees in an emergency,” writes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on its page on emergency preparedness. “Designate an out of town phone number where employees can leave an ‘I’m Okay’ message in a catastrophic disaster.”

For this to work well, you need more than just somebody’s work email and phone number. You also need contact information for their spouses and other family members, their home address, and contact information for someone out of the area who would know how to reach them even if local communications systems break down. This is particularly true for employees who are disabled, the DHS advises.

Similarly, provisions should be made for the well-being of employee families as well. No matter how dedicated the employee, they’re not going to work well—if at all—if they think their loved ones are in harm’s way.

Aside from it simply being the right thing to do, it also lets you know what resources you have going forward and whether anyone needs help. For example, your office may be fine and your employee alive and well, but their car could be damaged, the road to the office might be impassible, or public transit might be shut down. And if your company does have an alternate location set up, how will the staff get to that location?

Staff members should also make sure that everyone knows what they do, and how. It doesn’t do any good to have a full backup of all the corporate data if the only person who knows how to get it up and running is unavailable. A disaster plan needs to have basic, simple directions on what to do, and the plan needs to be available both electronically (both in the cloud and physically, in multiple locations) and even on paper. If power is unavailable, people still need to be able to read the disaster plan. (Remember to stick a flashlight in there, too.)

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration has information about how to write up a plan, while the Small Business Administration has suggestions for preparing for specific types of disasters. In addition, FedEx offers a handy checklist.

While you’re at it, remember to note down passwords. Recall that after 9/11, security experts were forced to ask grieving relatives for help in puzzling out the passwords for hundreds of Cantor Fitzgerald employees. Agreed, keeping a written list of company passwords is a security risk, but so is not having access to the data at all.

Your office also needs supplies. Perhaps people will be stranded there; perhaps people will leave their homes to come in to the office and not be able to get back. Does your office have food? Water? Bedding? Your building may have an emergency generator, but have provisions been made to get fuel for it?

And by the way, just where is that generator? During Hurricane Sandy, New York offices learned it wasn’t a good idea to put backup systems or generators in the basement, because they got flooded. However, the people who had to do a bucket brigade of fuel up the stairs found out that putting them on the roof wasn’t a good idea, either.

Finally, test your plan periodically. Practice what you’d do in various scenarios, such as if certain equipment, data, or employees were unavailable. You may find that you’re making assumptions that don’t end up working. And make sure the plan is updated regularly to allow for changed passwords, different roles and responsibilities, and new or departed employees.

We all hope that emergencies never happen, but good planning and preparation can keep a crisis from becoming a disaster.

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