By Doug Bruce, alumnus, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. In light of potential social unrest, business continuity must be a high priority for every business leader.
This is especially true for small- to mid-size businesses. Large corporations like Walmart, Disney, Amazon, and others have entire teams devoted to maintaining safety, security, and business continuity. However, smaller organizations often have a smaller executive team, many of whom often wear multiple hats for the company. It is notable that it often takes smaller businesses months or even years to fully recover from a crisis or disaster, and some never do.
Business continuity must account for both the organization’s operations as well as its employees. Leaders should encourage and empower their members, staff, associates, vendors, and others to create continuity plans to prepare themselves and their families for the unknown.
Start with a Risk Assessment
Preparedness needs to be proportionate to the likelihood and severity that any given hazard could pose to the organization. Threats to organizations come in various ways. This year has seen a record-breaking hurricane season, massive wildfires across the western U.S., an increase in domestic extremist threats, growing cybercrime and interference, all combined with the uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic uncertainty.
Look closely at the impact the run up to the election is having on local communities. Stores and businesses are boarding up as if a hurricane were approaching. Ask the following questions to assess the risk to your organization:
- Have protests or demonstrations previously affected your operations?
- Do you have high-risk materials, merchandise, equipment, or principal personnel at your location?
- Do your employees commute long distances or through vulnerable areas? Generally, this concern applies to urban locations, but conceivably any business could become a target for various reasons.
A significant part of an organization’s business continuity plan is to help its employees be prepared. To build organizational resiliency, businesses must take a preparedness stance starting with their executives in the C-suites down to personnel at the lowest levels.
The same principles of preparedness for natural disasters apply to human-made or technological disasters.
For example, all employees should have personal kits for the family at home, work, and in transit. The best kits are custom-built by their potential users so they know and understand the items inside the kits.
Kits should include essential items such as copies of important documents, extra pain relief or medications, food, water, snacks, an extra phone charger, flashlight, extra batteries, a first aid kit, a mask or face covering, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, local maps, written contacts, pet needs, and other personal items. Ready.gov is a great source for more information.
The nature of the crisis may differ by location; For some, the safest thing to do might be to evacuate the area. For others, it might be to shelter in place. Employees should prepare to do both, depending on their risk exposure. Key actions should include fire risk prevention and added security measures.
Assessing Physical Security Measures
Increasing security and hardening worksites is one way to approach threats that could cause hazards. Another is to remove the risk by allowing staff to work remotely.
Depending on how susceptible the business location may be to crowds, protests, or other interruptions, different measures may be appropriate. Do a walkthrough of your physical spaces and check for flammable items, check locks, make sure exits are clear and clearly marked. Think as an intruder might in breaking your defenses.
Consider fencing and boarding up windows, removing debris, lightweight signage, dumpsters, containers, and even vehicles.
Harden Cybersecurity Protocol
In 2020, most organizations have relied on cloud services to operate remotely during the pandemic. It is no secret, however, that cybercrime and cyber interference have been a problem during recent elections. One critical consideration is to verify the secure redundancy of your network and the security of storing critical information and documents in the cloud and offsite from your business locations.
Organizations must take careful measures like using VPNs, closed networks, and other access controls. Consider two-factor authentication, complex passwords, and changing them routinely. Instruct all of your employees to be extra vigilant, question suspicious emails, phone calls, and text messages that ask them to do something out of the ordinary. Encourage employees to take the time to verify the authenticity of calls, emails and texts before communicating sensitive information.
Develop Alternative Locations
Have protests or demonstrations previously affected your business locations? If work sites are in a location that may experience protest crowds or civil unrest,
make sure your essential staff has access to and is aware of alternative working locations. This could be an offsite warehouse away from an urban area, an agreement with another business to share its site temporarily, or the ability to work from home or even designating a hotel plan for key leadership.
Be sure to have multiple options available so everyone is clear how to activate this emergency plan and who makes the call to initiate it.
Find Alternative Travel Routes
Consider what travel methods your staff uses to get to work. Consider where they may park or how they commute to work on public transit. Use the information provided by local authorities about road closings or detours that may impact your business operations. Have a plan to inform all stakeholders through internal and external communication (staff, customers, tenants, vendors, couriers, and others) about the evolving situation. Similarly, consider employees who live in communities that might experience unrest even if the business location does not.
Communication and Notification
As the situation changes, ensure there are effective and diverse means of communication. Academic studies and business cases of effective crisis management have shown that early, effective, and clear communication can make or break an organization’s successful crisis response.
This includes knowing who to alert in a changing situation and how to keep them informed. All employees should know ahead of time what communication medium they will monitor to remain alert, whether they are automated messages, emails, calls, texts, or other applications.
If something feels wrong, then it probably is. Are there items, vehicles, people, or behavior that don’t fit the usual activity pattern near your business? Be sure to report suspicious or illegal behavior to authorities. Sometimes you may hold one piece of a larger puzzle that can be important to emergency services. Ensure you have a way to let everyone at risk know there is a threat and report it to local authorities.
Organizational needs vary in a crisis. For some, it is as simple as sending an email to all employees keeping them updated about an evolving situation. For others, it might mean asking employees to shelter in place. The 2020 election may pass without any disruption to your organization, but if there are new or existing hazards, you must ensure you are prepared to protect your employees and maintain business operations at the same time.
About the Author: Doug Bruce completed a Master’s Degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University in 2020. Doug consults events on safety, security, and business continuity, and is involved with several emergency management organizations in his community. Find Doug on Linkedin.
Disclaimer: This writing is my own, and does not necessarily reflect the views of employers, agencies, partners, vendors, and other organizations I affiliate with.