In my youth, I was a Boy Scout for several years, and many may remember the BSA motto is: “Be prepared.” I’m not sure if my contingency focus is a result of that upbringing or a natural inclination on my part, but I certainly grew up to be a belt and suspenders kind of person.
In short, if I can prep for something, I do. And if I can prep twice, so much the better.
That came in handy when Hurricane Ian canceled the return flight from my vacation. Within a few hours, I was able to rebook a flight, lock down some backup tickets over the next several days and reserve a rental car at a middle-ground airport. I also reserved a couple of hotel rooms along the way — just in case.
Overkill? Maybe. But if I can lay the groundwork to feel prepared, that effort is more than justified in the resultant drop in my stress levels, even if I never end up needing plans C-Z.
By the time you’re reading this, Hurricane Ian will likely not be a top-of-mind concern in the national conversation. But even if you weren’t so unfortunate as to face the brunt of this disaster, the storm still had real, horrific impacts on countless people in Florida.
Hundreds of thousands fled their homes, uncertain if they’d still be standing when they returned. And for business owners, operations were either shut down or drastically altered by the uncertain path of an oncoming storm.
Like it or not, unexpected situations are going to keep happening. Whether it’s a hurricane, a snowstorm, a tornado, a power outage or a new pandemic, the “unexpected” seems to be coming at an increasing rate.
So, with that cheery thought buzzing around in your brain, what can we do about the big, scary unknown? As often happens in these columns, I make one simple suggestion: Be prepared.
Being prepared for a crisis means being ready and able to continue business operations when the world isn’t cooperating with you. Of course, I don’t mean that you should try to tornado-proof your hotdog stand. Still, if you’re a provider of any critical goods or services, your community will need you to still be functional in the event of a disaster.
So how can you make that happen?
Well, in all likelihood, you already have some experience with this. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we watched in real-time as businesses scrambled to figure out their approach and tools for a suddenly remote or “distanced” environment. We all learned how to continue providing customer service even as the crisis raged.
COVID, of course, had a much slower onset period than most natural disasters, but the concept is the same. Figure out how to stay operational when things aren’t going your way.
“But Doug,” you assert, ever-prepared leader that you are, “I already have a plan for what to do in a crisis! I know exactly what I’ll do if I can’t get to my normal place of business, and so do my employees!”
And hey, that’s fantastic. But I would ask you one follow-up question. When was the last time you tested that backup plan?
I ask because I also thought I had a foolproof disaster plan in place. And for most issues, I’d say things went according to plan when we had to shut down for Ian. But what did give us trouble was our password sheet, which did not have the latest password for our ever-updating payroll system.
And while on the one hand, we were fortunate to only run into this singular issue, I can confidently say that our staff feels rather strongly about getting paid, particularly when a crisis is happening around them. A client I talked with told me all their contingency plans worked great for them — when they were in their office. When forced to evacuate, they found that several software platforms would not authenticate access from a different internet provider and that the phone number used to send the new authorization was the one in the recently vacated office.
Thankfully (after a moment of blind panic, several hours on hold with customer support, and a new heart condition), I was able to get us back into the system, as was the client I talked with.
While we both had “virtualized” our systems by providing the relevant codes and links to the team, things changed. And getting around to updating your ability to access, find, turn on or turn off systems, processes and providers is not top of mind when dealing with the daily demands.
But the lesson here is that even if you feel ready for anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are. Test it once in a while.
It can be tempting to imagine ourselves as immune to disasters because of where we live, how much we make or the lucky rabbit’s paw in our back pocket. But nobody is resistant to a crisis, particularly as we continue to see the ever-growing effects of our changing global climate.
Don’t believe me? Hey Texas, winter’s coming; how’s your power grid looking this year?
Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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