When it does – whether it’s flash floods or other weather events such as last year’s “Beast from the East” cold wave, a cyber-attack, fire or even civil unrest – the implications for businesses, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises, can be devastating.
It can be even more challenging in rural communities where there may be fewer people to help with the aftermath, and getting around may be harder. Finding solutions to problems such as flood or fire-damaged accommodation, loss of storage facilities or wrecked equipment can mean a sudden emergency turns into weeks of cleaning, regrouping, stress and financial loss.
And as the climate crisis grips, it’s anticipated that extreme weather conditions will strike with increasing frequency – raising the stakes higher for businesses.
According to Harriet Walker of Business in the Community (BITC), the UK’s biggest and oldest membership organisation dedicated to responsible business, those who don’t have clear strategies to prepare for emergencies are at risk of being tipped into panic mode when calm heads and fast thinking are most required.
“Small businesses have limited resources,” she says. “Preparing and planning for the unexpected should be integral to their business.”
Walker is director of BITC’s business emergency resilience group (BERG) which was created by HRH Prince of Wales to create a powerful, united response to a crisis. Multi-layered, BERG is fronted by a leadership team drawn from business, government agencies and others to encourage businesses to be more resilient to crises and to provide vital support should trouble strike.
They include representatives from businesses with a strong foundation in knowing how to respond to a crisis – from banks such as the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to others with security knowledge such as SecuriGroup and cybersecurity specialists Trustify – sitting alongside the British Red Cross, environment protection agency SEPA and the Scottish Government among others.
While the leadership team helps drive forward campaigns and targets specific areas of concern – such as cyber threats or extreme weather – local resilience forums plan and prepare for adverse events at ground level, ensuring they can act quickly to help businesses in crisis.
That could mean tapping into BITC’s vast network of business members who have confirmed a willingness to help in a crisis, whether by providing volunteers to help with a clean-up or storage space, a loan of equipment or liaising with the media.
Meanwhile, a key element of BERG is the Glasgow-based 24/7 control room provided by security specialists SecuriGroup.
“When an emergency occurs, especially out of hours, SecuriGroup’s control room can ensure no vital hours are lost in mobilising BERG and BITC support,” explains Allan Burnett of SecuriGroup and a member of the BERG leadership team.
“Our carefully-framed questions distil the nature of the emergency, and what support will help best.”
Should a significant incident occur, SecuriGroup regional manager John Gallacher takes a key role within the BERG team, coordinating assistance and possibly even travelling to the scene.
Over recent years, BERG has stepped in to help businesses through various difficult episodes, including the devastating Ballater Station fire in 2015 and the challenging winter weather of 2015-16 when Storm Frank caused widespread damage and flooding. When last year’s Beast from the East struck, BERG came to the aid of businesses that requested help.
“We facilitated things like sourcing of 4x4 vehicles to keep key services moving during that period,” recalls Michael Douglas, head of resilience and continuity operations at RBS and a member of BERG’s leadership.
“In severe floods in the north of Scotland a few years ago, RBS worked alongside BERG in supporting the communities with cleaning up and getting back on their feet.
“We roll up our sleeves and get involved when things do go wrong; being part of the response activity when bad things do happen.” But while those incidents saw BERG’s emergency response mechanisms in full flight, much of its work is concentrated on helping businesses ensure they plan for difficult situations.
It encourages its wide network of members to continuously share advice and offer guidance to smaller associates, directing them to BERG’s Would You Be Ready resilience guide and questionnaire, and eight practical steps to get them ready should trouble strike.
“We look for ways to help educate people to take preventative action against physical issues such as flooding or building failures, or digital issues such as technology failure or fraud/cyber problems,” adds Douglas. “In Scotland, we tend to be fairly resilient by nature, but what we can do more proactively is to consider how we plan for disruption. Prevention is always better than cure.”
That is certainly the case in cyber-security. BERG’s recent successful awareness campaign highlighted the risks and encouraged business owners to take BITC’s readiness test to assess their own level of protection for cyber crime.
Mike Still, chair of the BERG leadership team and non-executive chairman at cyber-security specialists Trustify, says: “It is not just about raising awareness of the risks that SMEs face in terms of their cyber security.
“It is about helping small businesses understand what they should do to maximise prevention and prepare for faster recovery from actual disruptions, so that they can return to business as usual, thus minimising the impact on their business and on the important communities and supply chains that they are a critical part of.”
While businesses supporting other businesses is at BERG’s core, it also draws support from a host of other sources, including government agencies. A Scottish Government spokesperson says: “The Scottish Government resilience team supports the work of Business in the Community by helping companies work together and prepare for emergencies.
“As well as highlighting the importance of building resilience, team members also provide direct help to communities.
“This kind of mutual aid is crucial to our national response to emergencies and we would encourage all businesses to think about how they would respond to such events and consider how they might prepare and what help they could give their local community.
“Our aim as a group is two-fold,” concludes Harriet Walker. “To build small and medium-size businesses’ capacity to prepare for and respond to a range of business disruptions – whether that’s floods, cyber attacks, fires – and to provide a co-ordinated business response following an emergency.
“It could be logistical, storage containers, 4x4 vehicles or office space. Or it might be food, clothes, volunteers or media coverage.
“But it’s imperative for big business to support small businesses to recover from disruption.”
For more information, see www.bitc.org.uk/campaigns-programmes/communities-place/business-emergency-resilience-group