Planning for disasters

Preparing for
disasters can seem a daunting task, especially for small businesses, but all
types of organisations can simply plan for the types of disasters they are
exposed to, says Omar Afflick, a deputy director with Hazard Management Cayman

During a Disaster Preparedness
Workshop for small businesses hosted by the Department of Commerce and
Investment on 31 August, Afflick advocated the need for business preparedness
to a group of small business owners and representatives and outlined how to
plan for business continuity and disaster response.

Any plan starts off in a chaotic
manner, said Afflick, but if you have your plan and if you stick to your plan,
you will always know, regardless of what happens, what the next step or action
to take will be.

“It helps make what would
otherwise be arbitrary and chaotic, systematic and orderly.”

The objective of a disaster plan
is to shorten the period of recovery and more easily manage a disaster when it
actually happens. A business continuity plan, for instance, is the main tool
and resource to keep a business in operation after the impact of a hazard or a
disaster. Business continuity is really looking at the likely events that can
disrupt a business, assessing them and planning for them, said Afflick. “How
will I respond to these events? How will I continue my business after having
been impacted by these events?”

The importance of disaster and
business continuity planning was also emphasised by members of the banking
community who attended the workshop. Banks are starting to see a lot more of
this type of planning as part of a business plan during a loan application,
confirmed Shane Storr, an account manager in business banking with RBC.

Historically it was never part
of a business plan, because from a credit perspective it was always about debt
service ability and collateral, Storr said.

However, as a result of
Hurricane Ivan, banks are now asking new businesses: “What is the back-up plan
in case a hurricane should hit you?,” he explained.

Businesses can manage disasters
by going through and planning for the various stages of the disaster cycle,
Afflick explained. These include both pre- and post-disaster measures that a
business can take in terms of preparedness, response and recovery.

Prevention and

In the
pre-disaster stage a plan should include preventative and mitigating measures
for identified potential disasters. This could include, for example, better
construction methods against storms and floods or sprinklers against fire.


and mitigation issues are followed by any measures that enable an organisation
to respond quickly and more efficiently to a disaster, for example plans,
drills or the stocking of supplies.


response measures concern all actions that are taken to save lives or reduce
economic losses once a disaster has happened.


activities that will restore basic services and initiate the repair of or
remedy physical, social and economic damage and losses are considered
rehabilitation measures.


contrast to rehabilitation, which focuses on a minimum first response,
reconstruction follows a medium- to long-term approach. It takes into account
the effects of a disaster and incorporates them into the repair effort for
example by ensuring better construction standards or more extensive insurance
coverage. The aim of the reconstruction effort is to learn from experience and
reduce the company’s vulnerability.


you need to (try to) prevent the disaster that you are exposed to, reduce it if
you can, prepare for it and of course respond. Then there is a recovery plan
that guides us in how to recover from whatever event it is,” Afflick

Planning process

On a basic level, the planning process itself is
quite simple. In a first stage, potential hazards and vulnerabilities have to
be analysed. The business can then assess its resources and develop a plan.

It is
not necessary and perhaps impossible to plan for every eventual hazard. A
business should therefore prioritise and analyse its vulnerability to certain
hazards, as it is the vulnerability of an organisation and its exposure to
specific events that will determine whether a hazard can become a disaster.

vulnerability assessment chart, which lists potential hazards and rates an
organisation’s specific vulnerability to each hazard according to none, low,
medium or high, allows the business to determine the level of response and
efforts spent on specific disasters.

analysis will then take into account the available resources of a business:
“What kind of impact can I really manage or if I am impacted what resources do
I have to employ to recover?”

It is
not a one-man job, it is a group effort, said Afflick. “It should be done in
consultation with all parties that have a role to play in that plan.”

a disaster, such as a hurricane, has been identified, a specific disaster plan
can outline what needs to be done by whom at each specific stage leading up to
and during a hurricane.

format of the plan consists of a sequence of actions, for instance in the case
of fire prevention and mitigation: check smoke alarm, service fire
extinguishers or check sprinklers. Each action has to be taken by designated
staff members whose roles are clearly identified and assigned. The plan will
therefore need to be distributed to and read by all staff.

The disaster plan should enable any person
that looks at it to take action in the required way. This means the plan should
be clearly understandable, unambiguous and flexible, said Afflick.