If a natural disaster were to strike, would your company be ready? Has your management team hardened the business to continue operating in case of a disaster?
With natural catastrophes growing in number and severity, businesses more than ever need to have in place plans for a quick recovery for the sake of their investors, customers, employees and vendors.
Here are some basic tips to ensure the survival of a small business in the event of a disaster:
- Create a written disaster preparation and recovery plan. This document should be in hard copy in your office and e-mailed to all workers, so that they can access the plan even if your offices are inaccessible.
- Inventory on-site first aid kits and other emergency supplies.
- Secure backup data offsite. What will happen if your servers are destroyed in a flood or fire at your office? If your business would be affected, you should prepare ahead of time by backing up your files at a remote location or in the cloud on a daily basis.
- Designate an alternate meeting site. If your office is suddenly destroyed or inaccessible, your employees should know where to report for work. Managers should have a roster of phone numbers. You should scope out alternate locations in case you need to arrange new office or warehouse space in a hurry.
- Get a generator. Don’t count on waiting until disaster strikes to get one. There will be a run on supplies. Ensure the generator has enough output to power your key equipment, whatever it is, from computers and printers to refrigerators.
- Designate responsibilities. Who will come to the office prior to a massive storm to put up storm shutters? Who will be available to come fill and place sandbags? Who can clean up if there is severe damage, and when?
Remember that some of your employees may be busy preparing their own homes and ensuring their families’ safety. Others may be members of the National Guard, and may be mobilized for disaster response. Take this possibility into account.
- Review your insurance coverage. Check all of your policies for the possible hazards they cover, as well as your policy limits to make sure they reflect your needs. Double check flood coverage. Most regular insurance coverage doesn’t cover flooding.
- Double check key-person life insurance and disability insurance coverage. The same disaster that disrupts your business could disable or kill key people, and cause severe disruption to the rest of the business as well.
- Consider business interruption insurance. These policies provide a cash benefit to keep a business going in case of a temporary closure. Business interruption insurance can help you continue to meet payroll and even avoid going bankrupt, or to retain valued employees while your business has shut down.
- Have a public relations plan. Designate a spokesperson for the company. Reach out to the local media with your recovery story. Don’t let people get the impression your business closed, particularly if you have to relocate.
- Diversify your telephone systems. Hurricanes and other disasters may knock out Verizon phones but not AT&T service, and vice versa. It can take time before workers can repair towers or reroute signals.
By ensuring your workers have different mobile providers, you can spread the risk out, so that your ability to communicate by cell phone is not wiped out by the loss of any one cell tower.
- Some businesses need emergency funds if they are unable to operate after a disaster. The Small Business Administration can provide low-interest loans to qualified small businesses to help them keep running through a disaster and its aftermath.
- Copy your tax returns and other key documents. Keep them online somewhere. Keep hard copies in a fireproof safe or deposit box off-site. If you live on the coast, keep it inland. If you live in a flood plain, keep it uphill.
Identify your hazards, and don’t expose your valuable assets and papers to the same hazard in two different locations.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to hardening your business to cope with a disaster.
All businesses are different, and one may have different needs than another business next door.
Above all, though, use your judgment, critical thinking skills and work through the different contingencies that may affect your organization.