When Disaster Strikes

“Fewer than 1 percent of all independent jewelers have a written crisis and continuity plan,” estimates John Kennedy, president of Jewelers’ Security Alliance. “Yet, recent vivid examples—like hurricanes Katrina and Wilma or 9/11—demonstrate that without such a plan, events like these can end an unprepared business.”

A business calamity isn’t always the result of a major disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. As the JSA Manual of Jewelry Security notes, “Even an overnight burglary with damage may require use of an emergency plan.”

So, how can a jeweler prepare? Here’s what the experts at Jewelers’ Security Alliance and Jewelers Mutual Insurance recommend.

Have a written plan. Jewelers should have a written crisis and continuity plan that addresses three main issues, says JSA. It must protect a business’s personnel, protect its property, and maintain operations afterward.

The plan should detail what a jeweler and staff must do to prepare (e.g., hold evacuation drills), minimize financial loss (e.g., safely store essential documents), and recover (e.g., quickly restore essential services).

Why should it be written? “In times of crisis, memory fails and confusion reigns,” notes Kennedy. “A written plan forces a jeweler to think through his particular circumstances and special risks ahead of time and develop a definite course of action. An oral plan is little better than no plan. A jeweler needs lists and extensive information, all of a crucial nature, and those shouldn’t be treated casually and orally.”

In addition, each employee should have a printed copy, and the plan should be reviewed periodically with them.

Update the plan often. A business’s disaster plan should be regularly reassessed and updated as needed. How can a jeweler tell when to update? “When important new circumstances or new information comes to a jeweler’s attention,” says Kennedy.

How often depends on the business, adds Jeff Mills, vice president of claims for Jewelers Mutual Insurance. “Jewelry businesses with multiple locations have more changes in systems, staff, and stores during a year that can impact a plan,” he notes. “Smaller operations, like sole proprietors, don’t have as many changes.” At a minimum, he says, “update disaster plans at least once a year and more often for larger organizations.”

The plan, adds Mills, should be specific to the business. “Jewelers should know all their risks,” he says. Geographic location, for example, can increase a store’s risk. The Gulf Coast is at obvious risk from hurricanes, and the Midwest has its “tornado alley.” Industrial zones risk chemical spills, wooded areas can catch fire, and river towns can flood. Even a high-rise building is subject to potentially damaging high winds. Whatever the risk, be sure your building meets or exceeds code requirements. Also, check if your community has a disaster plan and include it in yours.

Stay in touch. A plan should include contact lists with addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for the store owner, managers, and employees. Include essential vendors and service providers, the police department, security company, building or mall manager, insurer, and official emergency centers.

Set up a system to warn managers and employees of approaching calamities and to contact staff after a disaster has passed (e.g., A calls B who calls C and D). Major jewelry retailers like Sterling, Zale, and Ben Bridge had systems in place well before hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005 to track employees afterward and enable them to contact the home offices.

Keep copies of important phone numbers and e-mail addresses at home, and the most essential ones on your person in a wallet or handbag. Carry a cell phone to maintain contact with the business and be sure staff, vendors, and local police have its number.

Set up an alert list, including telephone and cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses, with local jewelers and other businesses to inform each other about pending problems and crises, both natural (e.g., storms, floods) and manmade (e.g., criminal activity, rioting, power outages).

Have a contact list for post-disaster vendors, including utilities and companies dealing in glass, alarm systems, safes and vaults, cleaning, and repairs.

Have backup plan. Authorize the store manager or another supervisory person to close the business and send employees home when the owner isn’t there.

Designate an alternative site to do basic business if your store is closed or inaccessible for some time. It can be a store outside the disaster area (a colleague’s or another branch of yours) or your home.

Review insurance periodically. Determine if you need more coverage for other risks, like business interruption or acts of terrorism. Photograph the outside and inside of the store, including the office, for later insurance use. Keep a set and put another in a safe- deposit box.

Keep emergency equipment at work and home. Include flashlights, batteries, cell phones, battery-operated radio, bottled water, nonperishable food, matches, candles, hand tools, fire extinguishers, first aid kit, and a still or video camera to document property later. A portable generator is useful during power outages. Test items periodically.

Hold drills. Hold fire and evacuation drills at least once a year. Preplan evacuation routes from your home, business, and neighborhood, using the safest and fastest route. Inform business neighbors and family of your evacuation plans.

In a crisis, comply with local officials’ orders. Set the alarm and leave with employees quickly, during daylight if possible. Take your cell phone, extra cash, and that list of essential numbers.

If there are local riots or looting, don’t leave your vehicle or open its windows. If you see police or National Guard, drive to them and follow their instructions.

[Next month: Preparing for recovery]