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Q&A From The Disaster Lady

By March 26, 2020 Blog
  1. I haven’t even started to respond and am trying to figure out what is going on. My folks are still coming into work. What do I do?

Answer: Your employees are your first priority.  You take them for granted or do not treat them as your top priority, your business falls apart and so does your customer service. Employees have loyalty to you during a disaster and you have loyalty to them.  Loyalty is built by making hard decisions to take care of your employees first.  If that means that you have to stop some in-person services that are more profitable so that your employees are safe, then you do it.  The advice I have given for almost 20 years now: Loyalty only goes so far without a paycheck.  Make meeting payroll your top priority. If you have to lay off, then do it by giving the employee as much of a financial cushion to land on as humanly possible.

Note to Healthcare: If your business is in this sector, then you need to follow the CDC protocols for safety. If you can’t follow them, then you need to do the right thing and refer those patients to an organization that can.  This is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing. Want to know why?  Do you want to know what the first thing that happens right after a disaster is declared over?  Lawsuits.  That’s right.  Customers, insurance companies, businesses, etc. are going to try to recover money or seek compensation for damages any way that they can.  If you think that your professional liability insurance will cover all of the lawsuits people can sling at you in healthcare after a disaster of this magnitude, then you are either overly optimistic or have not been in the healthcare industry very long

  1. What do I tell my employees about their jobs? I don’t know if they are going to have one in the upcoming weeks.

Answer: You have to balance your messages.  Don’t lie or bullsh*t people.  They know when you are doing it and it just makes it worse. However, you also do not need to assume facts, not in evidence, and tell them every possible horrible outcome that scares the hell out of them.  By that, I mean it is okay to tell folks that you are working on strategies to make sure that the business continues to be operational and you just do not have all of the answers right now.  Commit to giving them updates and then meet those commitments.  People do not expect that you will know everything.  What they do expect is that you will not hide from this and you will let them know what you can, when you can.  I have always seen that if you take care of your employees, then they will take care of your business. Even if they do not, then you can still look yourself in the mirror and not feel like a scumbag for treating people like dirt.

  1. 3. I had a great emergency response with hand sanitizers and cleaning the office. Is that enough? What’s next.

Answer: This is going to be a hard answer to give you, but you need to hear it.  The beginning/last week was the easy part.  That was what we call in the industry immediate disaster response.  It can last anywhere up to a week and is generally focused on getting command and control of a situation and some quick response activities. Normally this enough to handle many disasters as long as it doesn’t last for more than a week. The hard part? That’s where we are entering now.  It is what we call Long Term Recovery.  This means that you will need to look at how to change your operations for the long haul (at this point 3 months). Here are the top questions you need to ask yourself:

– What are my critical processes/services that have to continue no matter what?

Answer: These are things like direct services to clients that have to continue or things will get intolerable, payroll for employees, etc.  There are some processes that can be put off.  Sorry, Uncle Sam – Tax management is not a critical service to keep the lights on unless you are a tax planning business.  You can pay the government a late fee if needed. Right now, you need to focus on getting money in the door.

– What are my critical systems? Can they be accessed offsite?

Answer: Many folks now have services in the cloud which is great, but some don’t.  You need to ask yourself if it is secure or safe for them to work from home.  For example, if you have a business that deals with highly sensitive data that is heavily regulated, then you may not want them accessing it or managing it from home.  This is especially true if they can download that sensitive data onto a device that isn’t owned or managed by your company.  If people are working from home, make sure they are working on a device owned by your company and that they commit to keep the data on that device.  If you have to move to the cloud, make sure that they have a security program and just do not rely on their service provider (i.e. Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure’s security) because that is only half of the technical controls you need to be secure. More on that topic later because I could literally write a book on that one.

– Who are my critical vendors and what happens if they aren’t available?

Answer: In all my years of disaster response, the one thing I can count on is vendor failure at the worse times.  It happens in a number of ways such as they have larger/high-priority clients that they will take care of first and get to you when they can or they fail to meet their service agreement times, or (my favorite – not) is when the jack up the prices because your once regular service is now considered a “premium service” because other businesses are affected.  If you haven’t already, try to find other vendors in case your primary ones are not available.  The good news is that many suppliers and vendors are just as worried as you are and are trying to attract new business during turbulent times. Use this as an opportunity to build redundancy in your operations and negotiate better terms than even your primary vendor can give you.

  1. How do I manage finances when I do not have a CFO?

Answer: This is a tough one, but the head of an organization has to be actively managing the finances per day. If you do not have a CFO, there are some things you can do yourself such as projecting when your cash will run out, asking your bank for better financing terms in the short-run like 90-days interest-only payments or 90-day deferment of payments. Anything that keeps cash in the company is a good thing.

  1. What about my business insurance?

Answer: There are two truths about business insurance and major disasters that you need to know: Truth 1: Insurance companies do not make their money by paying out claims.  Do not expect that you will get a lot of money from your insurance company to help you through this time when everyone else if filing claims too. Truth 2: If the money comes, it can be too little too late.  You need to focus on short-term solutions to hold you over until (if) you get the insurance payout.  I know it sounds like I am picking on insurance companies, but I am not.  This is having seen this play out again and again over the years.