Industrial Safety

Prepare for the worst: Business survival lies in pre-disaster efforts

Being prepared for an unexpected disaster requires planning well in advance in order to manage any emergency situation.

By J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

On the morning of February 7, 2008, employees of a Georgia-based sugar refinery probably began their day like any other. The manufacturing plant was producing granulated sugar, and business was on as usual. However, the typical day at this refinery quickly changed as explosions riveted throughout the plant after accumulated sugar dust ignited from an overheated bearing. Within minutes employees were faced with a disaster that claimed the lives of 14 coworkers, injured 36 others and destroyed several buildings in the process. Are you prepared for the worst situation your company may face? 

Being prepared for an unexpected disaster requires planning well in advance in order to manage any emergency situation. Whether it is a natural, weather-related, man-made or technological disaster, the key to survival lies in your pre-disaster efforts. Taking the time to assess the company's functions, develop plans to keep the business operating, detail strategies to lead recovery and conduct employee training can make the difference between a business' survival or closure.

Conduct an assessment

The key to survival lies in your pre-disaster efforts.

First, it is important to understand what kinds of emergencies might affect the company both internally and externally. Researching the types of natural disasters that are most common in the area where the company operates, and analyzing processes that could put the company and employees at risk, will help direct you towards the safety and precautionary measures that need to be taken in the event of a disaster.

Next, carefully examine various functions of the company to determine which employees, materials, procedures and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating in an emergency.

When conducting an assessment: 

  • Review your business process flow chart.
  • Identify operations critical to survival and recovery. 
  • Find out how and where documentation is stored, such as back-up copies of tax, accounting, payroll and production records as well as customer records. 
  • Review existing plans to see if arrangements are made to operate the business in a temporary location or if the company is ready for utility disruption.
  • Review the company's insurance coverage to understand what is and is not covered.
  • Establish procedures for succession of management. Include at least one person who is not at the company headquarters, if applicable.

Finally, identify your suppliers, shippers, resources and other businesses the company utilizes on a daily basis. During the assessment you should:

  • Determine whether or not qualified back-up sources have been established to meet your company's needs. A disaster that shuts down a key supplier can be devastating to your business.
  • Review the contact list for existing critical business contractors and others you plan to use in an emergency. Identify where this list and other important documents are located.
  • Find out if a list of the most important customers has been developed to enable the company to continue service during and after a disaster.

Develop your plans

For a company, employees are the most important and valuable assets, followed quickly by the physical property and business operation

This article originally appeared in Occupational Health & Safety.  By J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., the nation's leader in risk and regulatory management solutions since 1953.  For more information, visit