WORKING STRATEGIES COLUMN: Disaster Preparation, Career Edition

We’re living in an age of disasters, both natural and human-caused. Wherever we turn, it seems we’re faced with the headlines: wildfires, floods, hurricanes, mass shootings…of course, living through such events is multitudes worse than reading about them.

Indeed, a disaster doesn’t have to be widespread to have a devastating effect on the individuals involved. In the workplace, a key employee dying or a building catching fire can change that company’s prospects for survival overnight.

If you own or manage a business, you might have already laid plans to resume operations quickly should something happen. But what if you’re an employee: What are your plans for moving forward after a disaster affects the place where you work?

Here are a few things for you to consider.

1. Insurance. If you work as an employee, there are certain insurances that your employer could, should or must carry on your behalf, depending on your profession and location. Worker’s compensation to provide partial income replacement if you’re injured at work would generally be the minimum, as it is broadly required by law. Among other types of workplace insurance are short- and long-term disability and professional liability.

Your steps: Find out what insurance coverage is included in your employment package and learn how to access it should the need arise. As an extra precaution, consider asking if your company carries income interruption insurance that would assure payroll in the event of a crisis.

2. Data access. Whether you lose access to data through a disaster or something more mundane, such as a layoff, know that foresight could alleviate the worst effects of this outcome. Using off-site storage for data to which you have a legitimate claim (clearly, not company secrets or plans) would enable you to act more quickly after an unexpected event.

Your steps: Start by creating two lists. One is the data that belongs to you, such as your resume, job description, networking contacts, letters of commendation, etc. The second list is for company information that would be necessary in order to conduct your job should something happen to the company’s infrastructure.

Gather and store items from the first list in a cloud account that you can access easily. Items on the second list belong to the company and should not be stored elsewhere unless your boss approves the plan. In that case, get the approval in writing and be sure that someone else knows how to access the information as well.

3. Money. Regardless of the nature of the calamity you are preparing for, you should expect an interruption to your income. The best remedy would be cash or a savings account but in lieu of those options, consider a credit card with a generous limit or another source of “borrowed” funds such as a retirement account or even a relative or friend.

Your steps: Review your finances to determine the amount required for at least one month of expenses. Now create a plan to access the funds in a hurry, should the need arise. If your plan hinges on assistance from someone else, consider having that conversation now, while it’s a hypothetical scenario.

4. Communication. If your job calls on you to communicate with clients, employees or vendors, you need a plan to help you do that during or after an emergency. While your organization may already have a protocol for crisis communications, that may not cover the fine points related to a particular department’s work.

Your steps: Start by identifying those who would need to be contacted. They could include customers with pending orders, direct reports who need to know what they should do, or contractors in the midst of projects for your department. As before, store the pertinent contact information where you can easily access it. Then, familiarize yourself with company protocol for crisis situations so you know what to do before making any outreach on behalf of your organization.

5. Backup plan. If your job were to disappear tomorrow, do you know how you would make a living? Unlike a career transition, this kind of Plan B is designed for one purpose: To see you through a cash flow crisis.

Your steps: Identify at least one thing you could do immediately to earn income should something happen to your job – think bartending, welding, Uber driving, software coding, Airbnb hosting, etc. – then take steps to make the plan feasible, such as networking, training or registering with the appropriate organization.

For bonus points, test the plan now. You’ll gain peace of mind, while also boosting your emergency savings account. These are assets you can appreciate in good times and bad.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul.

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