When Disaster Strikes

Preparing for a disaster used to be something only large organizations did. That changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Now even small retailers are looking for ways to protect their businesses in the event of an emergency.

“I don’t know if a lot of jewelers had a disaster plan in place, but I would suspect that was not the case,” says Ron Harder, president of Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company. “Awareness has risen since Sept. 11 to have some kind of action in place. We’ve received many calls from jewelers. Given the amount of time people have to conduct their business and still make a profit, some of these things get pushed to the back of one’s mind in priorities. These are wake-up calls.”

“Most small businesses don’t have a disaster plan,” says Doug Henderson, president of Disaster Management Inc., a Plantation, Fla.-based company that designs business continuity plans. “It’s my experience that even if the materials are free they don’t have time to do it. Maybe there’s a little more awareness now than there used to be.”

Hiring a disaster-planning consultant is one way to develop a plan. However, Henderson and security professionals interviewed by JCK say retailers can devise their own plans using information from organizations that provide practical guidelines for disaster planning (see “Disaster Planning Resources,” p. 118). It’s a straightforward and simple process, they say, but it does take time.

“For most firms, it’s not realistic to get outside advice,” says John J. Kennedy, Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA) president. “For most smaller firms, I think that they can rely on advice on a whole variety of subjects [for] things that they do. Big firms may want to seek special help.”

Henderson adds, “Most disaster planning for an overall business isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense and detail oriented.”

According to JSA and others, a disaster plan should be designed to protect personnel first, then property. It should also ensure the continuation of essential functions.

Risk assessment. The first step in compiling a disaster plan is to perform a risk assessment. Determine the greatest probability of a threat to your business and personnel because of loss, injury, disadvantage, or destruction, and calculate what it would take to resume business afterwards. Storeowners should identify critical areas that must remain operational or rapidly recover for business activities to continue.

“It’s nothing more than looking at your company from an outside perspective and determining what the loss of an entity would [mean],” says Michael Noyes, director of security for Borsheim’s, Omaha, Neb. “For example, if you lost your inventory, what would it take to put you back in business? What if your client database got destroyed, or your computer system went down and accounts receivable were destroyed? Even a small store can do [a risk assessment] with a cursory look. You need to determine what will it cost and what kind of effort it would take to put it back in place: ‘Could we do it from another location? Should we close down?’ It’s just a systematic look at each specific business entity to determine whether it’s high risk.”

Although the events of Sept. 11 increased disaster-planning awareness, terrorist attacks are still a rare occurrence on U.S. soil. A risk assessment must take into account every possible situation that would create a threat to human life and business operation. Fires and severe power outages are common to all businesses, and some regions of the country are prone to flooding, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Other threats may be unique to an individual business. A risk assessment and disaster plan must address all possible threats. And while one person may be assigned to gather the risk assessment data, input should come from many sources.

“Risk assessment is not completed by any one individual,” Noyes says. “It requires input from security practitioners and a host of others.”

Disaster preparedness and response plan. After determining your risk, the next step is to develop a disaster preparedness and response plan to deal with an emergency. You can create a simple document or an encyclopedic tome, on paper or with a computer. The following items are common to nearly all disaster-response plans:

  • An emergency contact list with the telephone numbers of local police, fire departments, ambulance services, hospitals, insurance companies, and utility companies

  • Insurance coverage discussion form

  • Disaster supply checklist

  • Creditor contact information

  • Supplier contact information

  • Information on key customers

  • Computer inventory (hardware and software)

  • A list, with phone numbers, of those who should be called in case of emergency

  • The numbers of a property manager or real estate agent in case the store is unavailable for use and a new location is needed quickly

  • Security information, including the name, phone number, and address of your alarm service and safe or vault vendor; also, the number of a security service in case the store must be guarded.

It’s important that copies of the plan be kept at several locations inside the store as well as away from the store—for example, at the owner’s house and at the house of a trusted employee.

In its disaster-planning document, JSA notes that managers and other on-site supervisory personnel should have the authority to close the store and send employees home. JSA also advises storeowners to have a plan for rerouting telephone calls—and the capability to do so—should an emergency situation prevent access to your business location.

Emergency supplies should be kept on site, including first-aid kit, flashlights and batteries, waterproof plastic bags, camera and film, basic tool kit, portable radio, charged cellular phone, and a small supply of bottled water and nonperishable food. Backups of essential documents—both computerized and hard copy—such as inventory, insurance papers, employee records, supplier records, and creditor records, should be kept off site.

First response. Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company recommends the following steps if disaster strikes:

  • Notify your alarm company immediately to arrange for repairs.

  • Contact your insurance agent or company for instructions on safeguarding your property.

If you are unable to contact your insurance agent or company:

  • Notify your local police department and explain the situation. Ask for additional patrols.

  • Leave the lights on.

  • Hire a trained security guard to stay in the store while it’s closed to business, unless your lease or civil authority prohibits it. If a trained security guard is not available, you or one of your employees should stay in the store at all times until the alarm system or security devices are in working order.

Henderson stresses that there should be at least one other location where employees can gather if they cannot return to the store.

“You need to identify [several] places to go if your existing facility is destroyed or access is denied,” Henderson says. “If for some reason they can’t get to the facility, there should be a plan to go to some kind of alternate site, like a hotel or a home or another store. Advance planning is helpful.”

Updating the document. Completing the disaster plan doesn’t mean the job is finished. Security professionals recommend constant review. Some items need to be updated on an annual, monthly, or weekly basis—some even more often. “Some of these things have to be done on a daily basis in order to be effective,” Harder advises.

“It becomes a cyclical process,” Noyes says. “Once you develop those countermeasures, you have to update them. For example, if you thought power was a big problem and you have since purchased an emergency generator, you now have to look at your plan again to determine if other risks have changed.”