CHICAGO — Though businesses can never be sure when a disaster will strike, they can and should be ready for one at all levels of their organization.
Speaking at a session at the FMI Show here Monday, two supermarket security experts urged their peers to develop comprehensive continuity plans that can help their businesses deal with disasters ranging from shootings to weather-related disasters to terror strikes.
“This might be the least sexy topic you hear about at this conference,” said Bill Alford, president of International Lighthouse Group, a risk management group based in Charlotte, N.C., and a former loss prevention specialist at Harris Teeter, “but in the real world, business continuity is nothing more than being able to keep your job.”
Spartan Stores' disaster plan involves employees at all levels of the organization and was crafted with input from local, state and federal agencies and a variety of first responders, according to Tim Bartkowiak, director of loss prevention and security at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer-distributor. Key to the plan is a spiral-bound flip chart providing step-by-step instructions and procedures for responding to any manner of emergency affecting Spartan or its retailers, ranging from robberies to bomb threats to weather-related disasters.
“Not all disasters happen from 9 to 5 on weekdays. Often, it's the 23-year-old working in the store on a Friday night who is left to deal with these situations,” Bartkowiak said. “We have to tell that person, if you need help, here is where to find it.”
The flip chart was produced with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security and is based on Spartan's interactions with first responders and government agencies. Three copies of the book are located in each Spartan-owned store, said Bartkowiak. (Copies of the book that are customizable for other retailers will be available at the FMI website).
Bartkowiak urged retailers to adopt public-private partnerships, which he said can have benefits for both parties. He urged businesses, for example, to invite local fire departments to tour stores, which will give them a familiarity with the facilities and could provide the company with valuable tips.
“The last time you want to be trading business cards with someone is over a dead body,” he said. “You have to understand who they are and what they can and can't do before that situation. And if you can make their jobs easier, you'll get a better response.”
Alford recommended five steps to building a continuity plan within an organization. Critical to the process is a commitment from company management, as well as the resources to implement it. Alford recommended creating a cross-functional team representing each area of the business, staffed with critical thinkers. “You don't want a lot of ‘yes’ men in this function,” he said.
The team should review and document all critical functions of the organization, and align them by importance. Information technology often requires the highest priority, “because they touch everything else today,” Alford said. “Make sure they're secure.”
The team should also ensure that backup systems are tested, and that all events involving their functions are critiqued and reviewed, he said. Retailers should make reciprocal agreements with other wholesalers and transportation providers to serve them in the event of a disaster affecting distribution. And a situation like the Virginia Tech shootings, Alford said, provides an opportunity for continuity plan leaders to ask, “What would we do if a similar thing happened?”