AKA: Thinking About the Unthinkable

by Stephen Fowler, President, PERCS

In 1905, nine Morse code strokes established an emergency distress code (or procedural signal or prosing). Now we think of SOS or “Save Our Souls.” The key was the simplicity of the signal. Fast forward to 1968, the first emergency phone call, in Haleyville, Alabama, dial 911 and hear: “What is your emergency?” Again simplicity, speed, immediacy.

Disaster/emergency planning started — at least the initial contact step.

The sequence is:

  1. See/hear/feel the distress.
  2. Estimate the severity and your ability for self control or effort.
  3. Call/reach out as necessary.
  4. Execute your plan.

See the smoke, determine its severity, call 911, execute your emergency evacuation plan.

Whether accident, calamity, mishap, reversal or catastrophe — all emergencies and disasters need this sequence. Planning and communication predict our recovery and indeed our survival.

Most entrepreneurs/business people suffer blind spots: like teenagers, they believe themselves immortal and their businesses will survive any obstacles. The challenge will inspire heroism; their actions will create success — until the unthinkable happens.

This is a reassuring mindset, but it is bad for business. All business owners must think about the unthinkable. We know about the things we know, and even know the things we don’t know. But the remainder, the things we don’t know that we don’t know or don’t want to know may befall us and our firms.

Even when we might know, often the plan we have is a “plan to have a plan” that never is articulated and thought-out until we extemporize some action. The emotional anxiety about disasters typically makes us silent; never communicating our fears, anxieties or plans with others: family, colleagues, staff. You might have some thoughts but no one else knows them.

The importance of having (creating, thinking out, committing to paper) a disaster plan is both self-evident and so beneficial. It improves your business muscles:

  1. We appreciate the challenges that may overwhelm us and our businesses.
  2. We better understand our strengths and weaknesses to respond.
  3. We know with whom to communicate with for help and to organize.
  4. We are enormously more likely to survive and build again.

Crucial elements:

  1. Protect (yourself, your family and your employees).
  2. Secure (your facilities, your assets, your business operations).
  3. Resume (life after the disaster).

Common planning steps:

  1. Be prepared (be over-prepared).
  2. Communicate (before, during and after: here is the plan, we’re executing the plan, we succeeded with the plan).
  3. Line up key assets (staff, family, bank, attorney, accountants, local responders, etc.).

Your plan needs to broadly cover many disaster candidates but have sufficient detail and specificity to generate a checklist to work through for each misfortune.

Floods, hurricanes, fires — these were all too common in 2017 but what are business disasters beyond them?

These are some of the disasters business owners need to contemplate and anticipate:

  1. Unexpected death or departure of a partner, or key salesperson.
  2. Equally unexpected and sudden loss of a leveraging product line.
  3. Unusual disaster that destroys your building or your computers and files.
  4. Internet disaster or social media firestorm.
  5. Governmental interdiction over-taxation or regulation issues.
  6. Think of your own potential cataclysm beyond these.

How do you know disasters have your firm and its existence in their cross hairs? You don’t. Are they announced on a weather report? Do they arrive by registered mail? Rarely do you have days or weeks in advance to prepare, hence the word, disaster.

Do you realize you are experiencing an emergency? What is your plan? Who do you call first? Will you calmly execute the steps to survive and prosper?

All this is in your hands — so make it thinkable and plan.

Preparing for this topic I discovered a great piece on emergency preparedness for business, www.thehartford.com/claims/business-emergency-preparedness.


Stephen Fowler is president of Process Equipment Resources & Consulting Services, Inc. (PERCS), located in Bridgewater, New Jersey. PERCS provides sales, engineering and business consulting services to equipment manufacturers, rep agencies and their direct customers. Before PERCS, Fowler was an executive at a major process equipment manufacturer, and then owned a four state, multi-product rotating equipment agency in the Northeast. Fowler has actively participated in MANA chapters, the Chemical Engineers Sales Association (CESEA), and technical groups such as AICHE (chemical), ISPE (bio and pharmaceutical), and WEFTEC (water and wastewater), representing all phases of the process industry.

The Importance of Having a Disaster Plan for Your Agency

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