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Monday, March 16, 2009

ATLANTA: Plan for emergencies and limit their effect

By Charley English Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's an understatement to say that when a tornado struck downtown Atlanta a year ago this weekend that people were a bit surprised. Most had never expected a tornado to follow a path down some of the city's major thoroughfares, blowing out windows and signs and causing millions of dollars in damage. But that's exactly what happened.

Taking the element of surprise out of a disaster —- natural or otherwise —- is exactly what a business continuity plan is all about. No one can predict when or where a tornado will hit. No one can say for certain whether a fire might strike your business, or whether an influenza pandemic could make a large percentage of your employees sick and unable to work for an extended period of time. But a business continuity plan can help you be prepared to handle each of these situations, minimizing their negative impact on your employees and your bottom line.

What is involved in creating a business continuity plan? Plans may vary widely from one business to another, depending on location, size, industry and many other factors. But they all address the same central question, "What needs to happen to keep our business operating in the wake of a disaster?" The more completely you answer that question when you are putting together your plan, the better prepared you will be and the better your chances of quickly and completely recovering from a disaster.

Start by learning about the emergencies that may impact your business. Next, take a close look at your business operations. What functions are essential? How would they be affected if your employees couldn't get to the office, or your building was closed for an extended period of time? Develop processes and checklists to stay up and running in the face of a variety of emergencies. Then make sure that your employees understand what to do in the event of a disaster or other emergency.

If you own or operate a small business, you may think that you don't need a business continuity plan, but nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Small Business Administration, small to medium-size businesses are most vulnerable in an emergency, making preparedness even more important. In a small business environment, an employee often plays multiple roles. Losing one employee could mean losing the capacity for several critical job functions. By planning ahead and cross-training employees, you can ensure that multiple people are prepared to handle your businesses essential operations in the wake of a disaster.

With tornado season upon us and hurricane season following soon after, Georgia could be in for some unpleasant surprises in the months ahead. Make sure your business is ready. Visit www.ready.ga.gov to find out how to create a business continuity plan and for information about emergency preparedness.

> Charley English is director of Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Office of Homeland Security.


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