It’s common for disaster planning to be overlooked when your nonprofit is focused on its mission. However, taking the time to prepare now can prevent serious consequences in the future.
Your operations are vulnerable to a range of risks, from natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires to man-made threats like cyberattacks and active shooters. Even seemingly minor incidents like burst pipes can have a significant impact.
4 risk areas to consider when disaster planning
Identifying and addressing four key risk areas is the first step to effective disaster planning. This may seem overwhelming, especially for larger nonprofits, but breaking it down into smaller components can simplify the process.
- Evaluate your facilities: Examine the structural integrity of your buildings, including elevators and fire suppression systems. Assess the reliability of water, gas, telephone, and electrical systems. Consider the location of each facility and whether there are any potential threats from factors such as traffic, crime levels, or neighbors.
- Review essential operations: The ultimate goal of disaster planning is to ensure a quick return to full operations. Identify the equipment, information, and people that are crucial and at risk. For example, consider how a prolonged power outage would affect your operations. Determine the critical functions of your staff. Assess whether there is sensitive information or inventory that would need to be recovered or if certain materials are needed.
- Ensure access to data: Many organizations rely heavily on digital data, and it is often stored in cloud storage. It is important to have a plan in place to ensure you can still access your data even after a disaster. Consider backing up your cloud data to provide an extra layer of protection. Additionally, make sure you have digital copies of important documents, such as your articles of incorporation and IRS determination letter, which may be in physical form. It is also essential to have access to contact lists, banking and financial information, insurance documents, and other records that may not be stored in the cloud.
- Prepare a crisis communication plan: In the event of a disaster, you may need to communicate urgent messages to the media, clients, and vendors. Consider what a press release would look like and determine where it should be released for maximum impact. It is also important to consider whether your clients will need backup services while you are unable to provide them. Having a clear plan in place will help ensure effective communication during a crisis.
How to mitigate risks
Once you’ve identified risks, take a two-pronged approach to addressing them:
- Do what you can to reduce your exposure, and
- Plan your response to the risks that remain.
For example, consider purchasing a backup generator to ensure uninterrupted operations in case of a power failure. If you rely on specific suppliers, make contingency plans with alternative vendors in case your usual sources become unavailable. You can maintain a relationship with a vendor by occasionally placing orders.
In addition, dual-train staff for critical functions to prevent operational disruptions caused by the unavailability of a single employee.
Finally, review your insurance coverage with your broker and fill any gaps by considering policies such as cyber insurance or business interruption insurance.
What to do after a disaster
After a disaster strikes, it’s important to be prepared and know what steps to take. While it may not be possible to eliminate every risk, you can still plan for how to respond in the immediate aftermath. One way to do this is by establishing an emergency response team made up of several employees. This team should create an emergency response manual that outlines everyone’s roles and assigns responsibilities.
It’s also crucial to map out evacuation routes and have a crisis communications plan in place. This plan should include a phone or email tree for contacting employees and clients. Additionally, it’s essential to identify alternative worksites and partnerships that can be utilized if your facilities are disabled. By taking these proactive measures, you can ensure the continuity of your operations even in the face of a disaster.
First responders are often forgotten about during this phase. It’s important not to wait until a crisis occurs to reach out to the police and fire department. Their advice can help ensure a more efficient response in an emergency situation. Additionally, your emergency response team should regularly reassess your organization’s risk assessment and response plan and make any necessary adjustments.
It is crucial for all organizations, including nonprofits, to acknowledge the potential risks posed by natural or manmade disasters. Although certain disasters cannot be prevented, taking proactive measures to prepare can help minimize the impact.