EHS OutLoud Blog

Keeping Your Business Afloat After an Emergency

flood.jpgThe March issue of EHS Today magazine will feature an article about emergency response written by me.

As I was conducting interviews for the article, I was reminded of our own workplace disaster/emergency that occurred nearly 20 years ago.

It happened on a bitterly cold January weekend. Some friends called me on a Sunday night and said, “So what’s going to happen with your office?” I had no clue what they were talking about. Then I looked at the newspaper and our office building was on the front page.

A huge water main had burst right in front of our building, shooting tons of asphalt and concrete into the air, causing chunks weighing hundreds of pounds to burst through our windows. This allowed millions of gallons of water (it eventually was estimated at 6 million gallons) to rush through the lower six floors of the building. The water flowed so fast and so deep that heavy furniture and filing cabinets from one side of the building were found piled against the walls of the opposite side of the building.

The water caused a power outage, which caused the heat to shut off. Two days later, when the power was restored, the frozen pipes and sprinklers burst, causing another flood. We were off work for two weeks and at least half the employees were out of the building for a year.

We never missed a single issue of any of the magazines headquartered in the Cleveland office.

underwater.jpgThe fact that we all pulled together – working from home and later from tiny cubicles in a temporary space; making do without our files, Rolodexes, archives and reference books (we stored A LOT of paper back in those days); salvaging what we could from our offices while wearing rubber boots and respirators; ignoring the fact that our work lives had been turned topsy-turvy – probably was one of the greatest accomplishments in any of our professional lives up to that point.

If a disaster like that struck your workplace, would your employer recover? If your facility shut down for two weeks or two months or a year, would the business survive? Do you keep critical business files stored on site or off site or both? Do you have a plan to reach employees if a disaster occurs in your area and phone lines are down at employees’ homes as well as work? If your plant manager or CEO or operations manager becomes incapacitated in the emergency or is unable to return to the area or contact you, is someone else knowledgeable and empowered to make critical business decisions?

We didn’t plan for the disaster that struck our offices. In the list of potential emergency scenarios, “chunks of concrete smash windows allowing millions of gallons of water to shoot seven stories in the air and into the offices” would not have been a consideration. We were lucky: We had a capable management team, dedicated employees and civic leaders who rushed to relocate the offices in available space nearby. While our lives were disrupted, business continuity was not.

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