Planning for a disaster - Where to Start

Learn about the 9 key steps your business should follow to be ready to help respond to a disaster: learn how to plan, execute and evaluate your response.

If you are reading this section in order to plan your company’s response to a disaster or an emergency in the future, then carefully follow each step below.

If you are reading this section for the first time because a disaster has taken place, also execute the following steps. However, take into account the fact that you will not have a suitable amount of time for a fully planned response.

It is still imperative that you follow the process from the beginning, and ensure that your most senior staff understand the leadership role they must adopt on behalf of your company in order to successfully respond to the disaster.

 

  1. Establish an Emergency Response Team

  2. Emergency Response Policy

  3. Decide What to Give

  4. Maximise the Effectiveness of Your Response

  5. Involving Employees

  6. Working with Customers and Suppliers

  7. Decide on Your Partner Charity

  8. Communication and Promotion

  9. Evaluation
     

STEP 1 - Establish an Emergency Response Team

Establish a staff team with responsibility for internal emergency planning and for the overall coordination of your company’s response to a disaster. This team needs to have senior leadership (board level) and needs to meet regularly during the year. The team must carry the necessary authority to make quick decisions about such areas of the business as finance, human resource, strategy, press and communications. Therefore, the representatives on the team should come from respective departments. Planning will help you to respond quicker and smarter when a disaster happens.

STEP 2 - Emergency Response Policy

Each incident that takes places in the world will be different to the last one, and there is no way of knowing when it will take place. As such, your company should have an agreed emergency response policy in place now. Make it available to staff. The policy should provide clarity about what incidents you will get involved with and how you will make decisions. This will help your staff feel involved and ensure that you save time when you are in the response phase. Externally, you should aim to manage expectations about your involvement. Above all else, ensure all your external and internal communications are transparent and accessible. It would be sensible for the emergency response team to lead the writing of this policy.

Suggested best practice - see Response Policy for useful examples of different business sector perspectives, and key questions to ask when devising a policy.

STEP 3 - Decide What to Give

There are many options about what you can donate at times of a disaster or emergency. Requirements will change as the situation moves from the initial rescue stage, to recovery and reconstruction. Working with a charity partner should help you ensure that your donations are needed. In the first instance, funds are the most crucial tool for a humanitarian organisation, and you should always check to see whether or not the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) - itself a consortium of UK charities that coordinate donations and relief for large scale emergencies - has set up a specific appeal for the emergency in question. Use the DEC’s homepage or the telephone donation line - 0870 60 60 900 - to make a cash donation only. All DEC’s member agency contact details can be found on the Useful Links page.

Other ways to help include giving money, products, services, resources, time, staff and expertise (see the Forms of Support section for more information). Think creatively - providing a loan or sophisticated technical support may actually make a greater impact than donations of products or staff time.

Suggested Further Reading - The International Business Leader’s Forum set up a special task force in August 2005 following the Asian Tsunami to see at first hand the role that business played after the tsunami, and the needs of recovery. Its most recent publication - Best Intentions, Complex Realities - detailing the task force’s key findings, can be found in our Publications Section, and provides useful further reading on the issue of what businesses are best suited to give in times of disasters.

STEP 4 - Maximise the Effectiveness of Your Response

Make sure that whatever help you decide to make available is going to make a difference. In most instances relief agencies do not want donations of clothes or blankets; they want cash to spend in the communities affected. If you set up relationships with agencies in advance, then they can work with you to explore what support your company can give.

Remember:

  • Cash contributions are most useful

  • Avoid hasty decisions

  • Collect information before committing resources

  • Direct giving to previously identified partners or to the DEC

  • When giving products, services or gifts-in-kind, remember to calculate the cost implications of transport, maintenance and training

  • Avoid displacing locally available resources, distorting market prices, or obstructing relief supply chains with unnecessary goods

STEP 5 - Involving Employees

While many employees will not need any encouragement in order to provide support in the event of an emergency, we suggest that you help enhance their involvement not only as an situation unfolds, but in advance of the next one, by considering any of the following:

  • Match employees’ donations pound for pound

  • Encourage employees to fundraise in company time

  • Remind your employees to give tax-effectively and to Gift Aid their donations

  • Promote Payroll Giving, which is one of the most effective ways for employees to donate to charity. Find out how to set up a Payroll Giving scheme at www.payrollgiving.co.uk

STEP 6 - Working with Customers and Suppliers

Your customers and suppliers are key stakeholders with whom to engage when you respond to an emergency. Consideration must be given to them when setting up your response team, as well as during the event itself.

Where appropriate you can make it easier for customers and suppliers to give to an emergency appeal through collection points on tills, offering to donate a percentage of product price or by joint fundraising efforts. Make sure you explain to customers and suppliers why you are getting involved, and thank them.

STEP 7 - Decide on Your Partner Charity

All the advice we have been given by charities is that they work best with a company with whom they have already built a relationship. Use your emergency response team and the development of your internal policy to select the charity or charities with whom you feel you can both work and build a relationship. Humanitarian organisations will always welcome funds, but they will also welcome discussions around developing broader partnerships with businesses. Organisations such as Business in the Community can help companies broker these types of partnerships.

Suggested Further Reading - see the Useful Links page for examples of the sorts of organisation you may want to work with.

STEP 8 - Communication and Promotion

It is crucial that throughout any emergency response your company must make clear, concise and accurate communications about its activities. The emergency response team should coordinate all communications and plan as much of their internal and external communications in advance of an event unfolding. The success of your company’s response when it is most needed, relies on this planning stage and your ability to engage as fully as possible the many different facets of your response as possible. It is important to promote the various resources that you have invested as an employer.

NB - See section on What to Do at the Time of a Disaster for information about communicating at the time of an emergency.

STEP 9 - Evaluation

In order that your emergency response process can develop over time, you should use your response team to evaluate the activity of your business on a regular basis. Most crucially, this should take place after an emergency has occurred and your response process has been utilised fully.