Operators in the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) sector are being encouraged to take the issue of disaster preparedness more seriously.
In fact, Director of the Department of Emergency Management Kerry Hinds has issued a challenge to business owners to take more responsibility in helping in the national preparedness efforts by putting various plans in place to mitigate or cope with various risks from natural and manmade hazards, and to put a business continuity plan in place that considers those disasters.
She was speaking during the Small Business Association (SBA) members’ information session for July, which examined the topic Developing A Culture Of Preparedness Amongst Our People.
Hinds pointed out that in addition to hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, business owners should consider hazards such as oil spills; acts of violence and terrorism; technological malfunctions including software and system failures; cyber- attacks; health pandemics; fires and civil unrest, among others.
“It is important to note that we may not be able to stop these various hazards from occurring but we can reduce vulnerability to these hazards and we can try to have coping mechanisms or strategies to deal with the various eventualities,” said Hinds.
“It is important that we protect our business from these various hazards and I will want to propose that the best solution is to have a plan which is robust and sound, and all your employees know what the plan dictates, what it encompasses and you test it regularly.
I can even stretch that to not just a plan as a written document, but a safety programme in your business continuity programme. As business owners you need to focus on that particular aspect because it does add value to your business,” explained Hinds.
She said the idea of having business disaster preparedness and business continuity plans was to protect workers and assets, lessen the financial impact and to reduce the time it would take to reopen the business.
She advised the operators in the MSME sector not to see it as a burden but as a critical long-term investment, adding that in addition to investing in infrastructure there were other practical strategies that could be put in place including deciding where to store information and the training and cross-training of staff.
Hinds also challenged the SBA to put systems in place to provide support for its membership, adding that it would help to set targets, “get a gauge” of members’ needs and what plans they already have in place.
“Is it a case where you can provide information through a portal for your members, a specific page that they can go to if they need assistance or do you have a help-desk they can go to? Those are practical ways that you can help businesses,” she said. “It really is about building capacity, fostering resilience and leveraging networks and partnerships. Is it a case where the Small Business Association can partner with others, not only locally but regionally, in helping its members to build capacity?” added Hinds.
Chief Executive Officer of the SBA Senator Dr Lynette Holder agreed there was need for more resilient systems in place to ensure business continuity after a natural or man-made disaster.
“Culturally we have some way to go in our approach to natural disasters – in being prepared for them and doing those things that are necessary. So there is a cultural shift that we believe is required . . .We have a responsibility culturally to addressing the issue of preparedness and changing our overall behaviours and attitudes to natural disasters,” said Holder.
The SBA head also encouraged entrepreneurs and small business owners to factor insurance in their plan “to help with mitigation of risk in the event of a disaster”.