My daughter, who is away at school in another state, had a very strange experience last weekend.

She was washing clothes and finishing up for the night when she put her last load of clothes in the dryer; she left the load she’d just removed from the dryer folded in a basket in the laundry room. In the middle of the night, one of her roommates awoke to a majorly smoked-filled house. The smoke alarms hadn’t gone off, but the roommate woke up the household and everyone got out safely. The fire department arrived quickly and fortunately the issue was resolved with little damage—just a lot of smoke and the loss of most of my daughter’s laundry.

As it turns out, her laundry basket spontaneously combusted and the smoldering of her clothes created all the smoke. Don’t ask me to explain, it’s a long story. Let’s just say that certain items of clothing that may contain wires should not be placed in the dryer, as the metal of the wire takes a long time to cool
once removed.

I was very happy everyone was safe, but the incident got me thinking about crisis plans. Who knows about them, and are folks prepared to execute their responsibilities?

Every business needs a plan for what should happen in an emergency, and everybody in the company should be knowledgeable of the plan and their role in it. But having the plan and knowing your role isn’t enough. You also need to test the plan and learn from training exercises so that you can react quickly and appropriately in the moment.

My daughter and her roomies relied on the smoke alarm and knew what to do once it went off—but it didn’t go off. They were fortunate one of them reacted in the moment and reworked the plan, but not everyone always gets the time to rework a crisis plan on the spot. FEI’s trainers and crisis consultants always say that the time to build a plan or change the plan is not during a crisis—you won’t have the focus and resources to get the best result. Instead, you should create the plan, test the plan and exercise the plan before the crisis hits. That way, when the time comes, everyone can engage immediately and execute accordingly, including managing through any contingencies your team learned about during their training exercises. Like with any activity, practice makes perfect.

So, as we come to the end of another year, let’s take some time to ask ourselves and our businesses:

  • Can we beat spontaneous combustion? Are we as prepared as we can be?
  • Do we have plans in place that have been tested and exercised?
  • Do all of our employees know their roles before, during and after a crisis?

Challenge yourself and the business to build your emergency response plan and exercise the plan in 2019. Make it a New Year’s resolution that you not only keep, but one that helps your organization grow
and improve.

Have a joyous and peaceful holiday season, and all the best for a prosperous New Year.