Five Steps to Small Business Disaster Preparedness

Summer isn’t all ice cream and fireflies.  The summer months are prime storm season, including often deadly tornados and hurricanes.  But regardless of location or season, severe storms can happen anywhere, anytime. It’s always easy to treat it as an interesting hypothetical until that someday becomes today and suddenly interesting isn’t the word you’re looking for. Don’t be one of the 40% of businesses that fail to recover from a disaster.

The consequences of not being prepared can vary from inconvenience to much worse.  Luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on equipment or expertise to put a basic plan together.  It’s all about common sense and the courage to use it when required. Here’s a basic 5 step plan to getting and staying prepared.

1. Assess Your Risks
While nature is always unpredictable, you should still understand the particular risks of your region and location. This ensures you are preparing for the right thing.

  • Check with your insurance agent to better understand your risks and coverage.
  • Use these FEMA resources to better comprehend different threats and their consequences.

2. Know Your Evacuation Options
You need two evacuation plans. One is required to get people out of your business; the other involves moving people out of the area in the case of an approaching storm. Hopefully you’ll never need either.

  • Make sure your employees are clear on how to exit the building safely and where to gather as a meeting point.  Make sure exits are clearly identified and remain unobstructed.
  • Make sure you understand local and regional evacuation plans, especially for businesses facing frequent hurricanes.  FEMA has some great information on regional evacuations.

3. Get a Communication Plan Together
If you can’t open for business or communicate via email, how will you stay in touch with management, employees and clients?  Consider a phone tree or other method of distributing important information inside the company. Make sure management is involved.

4. Back Up Moving Forward
Depending on your business, there’s a pretty good chance your important files and computer data are critical to your continued success.  How well are they protected against unexpected disasters or less dramatic events?

  • Develop a regular process for backing important data up and storing it offsite. This SBA advice can help you assess your needs and choose the right solution.
  • Ensure important records, whether electronic or paper, are routinely backed up and stored offsite.

5. Pack a Bag
You may already have a go bag at home, ready for service in case of an emergency.  The Red Cross advises putting one together for your business as well.  Consider including:

  • Battery-operated or crank radios and flashlights with extra batteries
  • Phone, walkie-talkie with extra batteries
  • Extra set of car, building and business keys
  • Copies of important documents in a waterproof, portable container
  • First aid kit
  • Tools (non-electric can opener, utility knife)
  • Water and non-perishable food for employees and customers to use during a period of unexpected confinement at your business, such as if a tanker truck over-turned nearby and authorities told everyone in the area to stay put for an extended period.

Preparing for a disaster is a lot more complicated than boarding up windows and double-locking doors.  Luckily, you can do most of the hard work ahead of time.  While experiencing a disaster will never be easy, good planning can take some of the fear and worry out of it.  That gives you more time to do what best:  grow your business.

Thanks to Flickr user Dan Nguyen