How to manage an office shutdown during a natural disaster

How to manage an office shutdown during a natural disaster

Hurricane season, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes – at some point during your career, you might need to evacuate your workplace for days or weeks. If you’re a business owner or an office manager, having an emergency plan in place will not only help you safeguard your company’s people and physical assets, it can also be the difference between the business staying open or failing.

Use these methods to manage the logistics of shutting down a workplace, keeping in touch with employees when they are scattered, maintaining business continuity, and moving back into the office.

  1. List potential emergencies

    Create a list of possible disasters that would cause your office to shutdown. Check our post,
    9 ways to boost workplace emergency preparedness, for a list of potential threats and where to find specific information on dealing with them.

  2. Create an employee communications plan

    Decide how employees will communicate before, during and after an office evacuation. Consider a cloud-based system all employees can access with a password from their phones, personal computer or other device. Put more than one person in charge of sending texts or emails or posting on the company’s intranet or cloud tool in the event one communications person goes offline. Distribute your contact methods to employees well in advance of an emergency so they know what to do if the disaster occurs when they are not at work.

    Let employees know which emergency radio stations, TV channels and websites they should check for your area to stay informed and keep everyone on the same page. In addition to tracking the weather, make sure employees are kept up to date on transportation issues, such as traffic and airport closings.

    Provide employees with a list of local phone numbers to call in the event they find themselves in danger.

  3. Document physical assets

    You might not be able to remove important assets from your office if you have to leave on short notice in the event of an emergency. Many of these could be damaged or stolen. Take pictures or videos of any assets you want covered by insurance well before any emergency and store them off site. If safe to do so, take more pictures before you evacuate the office to prove that certain items were there on the day of the emergency. If possible, include a dated item (such as a newspaper) in the picture or video.

  4. Safeguard company and customer data

    Take a backup of important data, as well as important paper files, especially those containing important customer information and your insurance policy. Talk to your attorney about your legal obligations for protecting customer data and work with your IT lead to ensure you back up your important data offsite on a regular basis (each night, if possible).

  5. Keep paydays on time

    As early as possible, let employees know if, how and when they will be paid during a workplace shutdown. Work with your payroll administrator in advance to make sure you collect the necessary paperwork and information from employees to ensure a smooth payroll delivery during a company shutdown.

    If paying employees during an extended shutdown will be difficult, see if any employees are willing to take deferred payments. This will allow you pay employees for lost wages later in the year, over time, when you are profitable again. You might offer a bonus for employees who help you out. You might legally be required to meet some of your normal payroll responsibilities. Make sure you are aware of any laws regarding paying your employees during a disaster.

  6. Keep external stakeholders informed

    Develop a protocol for keeping vendors, suppliers, customers and the media updated about your situation until you are back in the office. Let people know how to contact you and how to do business with you during the office shutdown, if you will remain available for business online or at another location.

  7. Have a continuity plan

    If you can continue to perform part or all of your business functions while your office is closed, set up the policies, procedures and systems for doing so. For example, salespeople should be able to access their client databases from another location. Your marketing department should be able to update your website, social media channels and blog.

    If you sell a product, you can use a pop-up store to sell if your main store is closed. If you make a product, you might make arrangements to use a backup manufacturing facility. If your delivery service is located in your affected area, have a standby carrier from outside the area ready to take over if you can still ship product.

    List your suppliers that you can’t operate without. What if something happens to them and they shut down? Contact them to discuss how they plan to operate during and after an emergency. Have Plan B suppliers and vendors lined up in other areas of the country who can serve your business if your providers can’t. This includes checking out their products and services, pricing, delivery and shipping times.

  8. Helping with a new location

    Assign a group of employees with the task of finding new office space in the event your office is permanently damaged, or unusable for an extended period. Have them begin working on the process while they are waiting for the results of the emergency to become clear. This is easier if you have several days’ notice or more, such as before a hurricane. You might not be able to find or use a new location, so have employees brainstorm any alternatives, such as selling online (or at least continuing to take orders) while you’re waiting to open your doors again. Create a plan for a permanent relocation, such as if your building or plant is destroyed.

  9. Getting back to work

    Notify your staff as soon as possible when they will be needed back in the office. Some staffers might need to get back to work sooner than others, based on their function and how you will re-open the business.


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