When, not if, disaster strikes will you be ready?

The essence of leadership is evidenced during trying times. Strong, skillful leadership is always important, yet perhaps most critical when conditions are exceptionally difficult. One of the times that requires extraordinary leadership is during a crisis. In this arena, the quality of leadership prior to a crisis depends on foresight and discipline. The quality of leadership during a crisis depends on wisdom and character.

 In the disaster preparedness realm, the operative word is when, not if. This is the basic premise. Thus, every organization needs to have a Disaster/Emergency Preparedness Plan. In the world of strategic planning, this is also known as a Business Continuity Management Plan.

Whether it's a natural disaster such as a flood or an earthquake, a large-scale health crisis, an accident, illness or a fire, there are numerous calamities that could drastically affect an organization. In recent years, the prospect of disaster coming close to home has become much less abstract. We have all been sobered by the sense of vulnerability we share in the wake of disasters both natural and human-caused.

 Savvy business leaders analyze potential risks and then develop business resiliency by preparing effective responses in the event of an emergency. Disaster preparedness is about figuring out how to get through the difficulties with the least damage to your organization. It’s about how to maintain your essential business functions during a crisis. No insurance policy or governmental agency can do this for you.

Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees, and to the extent possible, protecting their livelihoods. Companies must also continue serving customers, providing products and services, and protecting the investments of the enterprise, which include not only capital assets but also brand strength, market share, and employee development.

Being prepared is also part of good community citizenship, becoming part of the solution instead of adding to the problem during a crisis. The more prepared individuals and organizations are, the more resilient the overall community will be in recovering from an emergency situation.

Organizations need to address a number of questions. How will the organization continue to function in the event of a crisis or disaster? What policies and procedures need to be in place? What training and information do employees need? What supplies need to be on hand? How will you handle the human factor of people who may need medical care or be emotionally distraught?

Remember, too, that not only might your organization be impacted, but any point in your value chain of critical business relationships may be as well. Your business may appear to be OK, but what if your suppliers were unable to provide you with the goods and materials you need? What would happen if transportation or communication systems were disrupted? What impact might a disaster have on your customers? Every aspect of your business has vulnerabilities and risks you must understand and be prepared for.

Because it's easy to put this off, one of the biggest challenges is to make emergency preparedness a priority. Put it on your action agenda. The message here is to be neither oblivious nor fearful, but realistic. Take responsibility for being prepared. The goal is to stay in business after a crisis.

 There are numerous resources available to help organizations develop a Business Continuity/Disaster Preparation Plan. Good information is readily available. Here are some helpful resources to get you going or improve what you have. Christopher Helgren, emergency manager of the Sonoma County Fire and Emergency Services Department, recommends www.preparemybusiness.org from the Small Business Administration and www.brma.com from the Business Recovery Managers Association.

Lori Armbrust, emergency preparation coordinator for the Sonoma County Water Agency, and Helgren both recommend www.ready.gov/business as an excellent starting point.

The importance of effective leadership is absolutely crucial during and after a crisis. You can’t expect to be “taken care of” when a disaster happens. Businesses need to be prepared to safeguard their property, their employees, and their operational functions. Government services may be available in certain circumstances, but when it comes to increasing the likelihood that your business can continue to operate effectively during and after a crisis, that’s up to you.


Ms. Luttrell is an ISO-Certified Management Consultant whose firm has been named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America. As a business strategy advisor since 1982, she has helped hundreds of companies simplify complexity, increase success, and turn challenges into opportunities. Her services include strategic planning, marketing, organizational performance, meeting and retreat facilitation, and executive/leadership coaching. Contact her at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net. Visit her website at www.maryluttrell.com for articles on business management and to sign up for weekly email leadership tips.

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