Disaster Planning: Don’t Let Wild Weather Wash Your Association Away

Recent severe weather events remind us why it’s best to be prepared for the worst. One risk management expert offers tips for developing a solid weather contingency plan.

To say that Mother Nature has been acting a bit crazy is an understatement. Just look at last weekend, when the central U.S. saw everything from tornadoes to thunderstorms to blizzard-like snowfall.

Despite the weather extremes of recent years, 35 percent of respondents in a new Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce survey of small-business owners in Canada admitted to having no contingency plans in place to deal with harsh weather that could potentially shut down their business. Even with recent flooding and ice storms, only 19 percent of the 500 business owners surveyed said they were rethinking how to handle severe weather events.

“While more small-business owners are thinking about contingency plans, the reality is most need a plan in place to ensure they can withstand business interruptions without draining their personal savings,” Shelley Swanlund, vice president of business banking at CIBC, said in a statement.

But Canadian small businesses are apparently doing better in the disaster-planning department than associations. According to data from ASAE’s 2012 Benchmarking in Association Management report, only 51 percent of associations reported having a written disaster preparedness and recovery plan, and even fewer small-staff associations (36 percent) said they have one.

Those numbers are no surprise to Leslie White, founder and president of Croydon Consulting, LLC, a risk management firm that specializes in helping nonprofits.

“For one, we all like to procrastinate and take the ostrich approach and bury our heads in the sand,” White said. “In the last few years, though, we’ve had some narrow misses, like the earthquake and the snow this past winter, to where people are hopefully now figuring out just how important it is to have a plan in place.”

A contingency plan gives the organization a process to follow so staff isn’t scrambling to get back into a routine once the weather clears, she said. “It makes you think about the unthinkable and then develop a response to that. You’ll have thought through and prioritized the things you need to do to get your organization back up and running.”

A solid plan involves two main components:

  • A business impact study. “This involves figuring out what the critical things are that you need to get access to right away,” White said. “For most people, in the electronic age, it’s being able to get back to the internet, because that way you can do your electronic banking, you can get email, you can get messages out to your members, to your vendors, and your board.” Priorities could vary depending on the time of year, though. If your annual meeting is coming up, you probably want to focus on getting registration up and running and making sure the website works, she said.
  • A communications plan. “How are you going to get in touch with people? And part of that is figuring out who you need to get in touch with: your board, your members, there might be certain vendors you need to get a hold of—whatever’s most important to your association,” said White. “Even if you’re a small staff, you still might have three or four people that you have to get a hold of. Make sure everyone knows the proper protocol.”

Developing a disaster preparedness policy can be time consuming, but in the end it’s worth it, White said.

“You have operations that you need to keep going, members that you need to continue to serve,” she said. “To me, it’s basic survival.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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