Whether you call it a disaster plan, an emergency response plan, a crisis management plan or something entirely different, you must put in place a contingency plan for your business—with the hope that you’ll never have to use it.

Setting the Foundation

Start by taking care of some simple foundational elements. Then, if a plan needs to be implemented, the groundwork you have laid will help the plan unfold as effectively as possible.

  • Facility. Begin by finding out whether your facility itself is up to code. Ask the fire department to visit to make sure the building meets fire safety codes. Invite the police department to check out security and offer ideas.
  • CPR and First Aid. Are your staff’s CPR and first-aid certifications up-to-date? Has staff been properly trained in using the automated external defibrillator (AED)? While CPR, first-aid certifications and AED knowledge often apply to smaller crises, not keeping up-to-date with them may result in larger problems.
  • Data Backup. Experts recommend backing up your data onto external drives at least once a week. Small flash drives are about the size of a key and can easily be taken home with you each night. Online data backup is another option.

What Disaster Is Probable?

The next step is deciding what types of emergency are most likely to affect your business. Your plan will need to cover the steps you should take in each scenario that could impact your area, so it’s important to pinpoint all potential disasters. Your fitness insurance will cover certain catastrophic occasions. Sit down with your provider and discuss exactly what is—and isn’t—covered by your liability insurance.

Protecting People

Once you’ve taken care of foundational elements and are ready to craft your plan, you need to look at two main areas: people and business. The first phase of your plan should cover immediate what-needs-to-happen-now-at-the-time-of-the-emergency situations and take care of your biggest asset: people. Planning ahead and role-playing hypothetical emergencies will help you make the best decisions possible in a high-pressure situation.

Experts recommend setting up a disaster response team composed of several employees to direct other staff and members in time of crisis. Practice emergency response every few months based on various potential crises—natural disaster, terrorist attack, heart attack, armed robbery.

Taking Care of Business

The second phase of a disaster plan should focus on your business. If a fire destroys your facility, for instance, business might not take place there for some time. Then again, let’s say only part of the building is incapacitated, and some business can continue. How will you let members and staff know?

Depending on the nature of the disaster and how widespread it is, communication via mail, e-mail and phone might be difficult, at least at first. In some cases, media might be called on to report the crisis. A phone tree for staff is a good idea. You’ll also need to let members know whether your facility is still open and, if it isn’t, when they can expect to use it again.

While making the “right” decision in the face of crisis is sometimes a judgment call, you’re more likely to make a good decision when you are well prepared. Lay the foundation, put a plan in place and practice it. It might save not only your business but people’s lives as well.