Originally appeared in Fleet Owner

First it was COVID-19, and more recently it has been the significant weather-related events that have caused significant disruption to global logistics and the supply chain. It seems to me that there are lot more things disrupting the movement of goods, whether from a pandemic, natural disaster, or significant technological developments.

While you can’t plan for what the specific disruption will be, you can almost be guaranteed that at some point your business will face an unforeseen challenge. The question is: How prepared are you? If you do not have a disaster plan or have not updated yours in a while, now is probably a good time to do so.

I am not particularly fond of the words “disaster plan” and prefer to think of it as preparedness planning or business continuity planning. It’s about what you need to do to ensure your business can continue operating or adapt if faced with something that significantly disrupts the environment where you operate.

The first step in the process is to assess your risks. Not all businesses are subjected to risks from the same things. Common things to consider include natural hazards such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, forest fires, and earthquakes. Also consider health hazards like the coronavirus and unexpected disruptions such as workplace violence, power outages, etc.

Unfortunately, too often we get complacent about the hazards that can happen, especially environmental hazards, and begin to think that things won’t be as bad as predicted. I contend it is better to be over-prepared and not need to implement your plan than to be without a plan when you need it.

The first element of the plan should focus on your people and ensuring their safety. Develop a check-in system that will be deployed in the event of a disaster so you can account for the whereabouts of everyone who works for you. In addition, assign responsibility for executing various parts of the plan to key people in the organization. This will ensure the plan gets carried out properly.

Next you need to focus on your assets. If your vehicles are damaged or destroyed, what arrangements have you made to get short-term replacement vehicles so you can continue operating until you can permanently replace the lost assets and repair the damaged ones?

Also, what happens if the buildings you operate out of are damaged or destroyed? Your business continuity plan should include options for moving your operations to a temporary location for as long as needed. If you operate out of multiple locations, it could be as simple as shifting everything to an unaffected site. But you need to have a plan in advance for what that would look like and how it would take place.

And what about supply chain disruption? What if one of your suppliers has to shut down production for a period of time? Will you be able to get replacement products from another supplier? Don’t wait until a significant disruption occurs to try to establish alternate sources of supply.

To be truly effective, your business continuity plan must look at every aspect of your operation and determine what changes need to be made in order to allow each area of your business to continue to operate following a significant disruption — no matter what that disruption is.

The bottom line is you can’t wait for a disaster or significant disruption to occur to figure out how you will respond to it. The time to plan is well before you are faced with a problem. Failure to do that could lead you having to close your business forever. And that would be a real disaster.