How Small Businesses Can Prepare for Disaster

The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Northern California caused millions of dollars in damages and thousands of lives – and the numbers are rising. Disasters usually catch business owners off-guard, making a recovery after the event challenging if not impossible. In fact, the Institute for Business and Home Safety estimates 25 percent of companies don’t reopen after a major disaster. It’s unfortunate that tragic events such as these quakes are often what it takes for people to finally examine their personal and business disaster-preparedness plans.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is a good place to start for resources and information. It recommends you take the following measures for your company:

Meet with an insurance agent. Discuss business-interruption insurance – which replaces income lost when a business suffers downtime becomes of a covered peril – in addition to natural disaster insurance. Also be sure you know exactly which natural events are covered under your insurance.

Consider whether you can temporarily relocate your business. This is where portability comes in. If you haven’t graduated to a smartphone such as an iPhone or a BlackBerry, now is the time. You need to be able to continue your business if you can’t make it to your office.

Ensure your employees know what to do in case of an emergency. One place I’ve worked created business cards we could carry with us at all times with phone numbers to call in the event of an emergency. One phone number provided an outgoing message detailing whether employees were expected to make it to the office or not. It also included the phone numbers for the Red Cross and FEMA.

Create a backup plan in case your suppliers can’t get to you. Do you have alternate suppliers? Is it possible to keep a larger inventory?

Appoint a safety coordinator. This is the employee who conducts training for emergencies such as fire drills and evacuation plans. This is also the person who ensures safety equipment such as fire alarms and eye-wash stations are up to date and working properly. In addition, the safety coordinator can create and maintain posters to be mounted around the office that show where emergency exits are located as well as evacuation routes.

Be sure important business information is backed up off-site. It’s always good practice to back up your work. However, that’s not only for productivity reasons. In the event of a disaster, all your files could be lost – burned up, water damaged or buried under rubble. Make it a practice to back up vital company information off-site. These days there are plenty of easy, inexpensive backup options for smaller organizations.

A disaster is a disaster – there’s no denying that. However, if you take some time to prepare your business now, it can save you money, your company and possibly even lives in the future.

7 Responses to How Small Businesses Can Prepare for Disaster

  1. trompyx January 16, 2010 at 4:05 am #

    Realy very very good post!

  2. Jennifer January 18, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    Thank you! Creating a disaster-preparedness plan doesn’t have to be expensive or too time-consuming, and it can mean the difference between saving and losing your business. I’m always dismayed when I hear of a hurricane or flood wiping out what people have worked so hard for.

  3. Plastic cards February 18, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    These quotes would be most suitable:

    If you’re doing your best, you won’t have any time to worry about failure. ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

    Failure is an event, never a person. ~William D. Brown, Welcome Stress!

    The only time you don’t fail is the last time you try anything – and it works. ~William Strong

    I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ~Thomas Edison

    I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. ~Bill Cosby

    There is no failure except in no longer trying. ~Elbert Hubbard

    Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down. ~Mary Pickford

    Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett

    Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure… it just means you haven’t succeeded yet. ~Robert Schuller

  4. Penny @ Calendars February 19, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    Wow that some really sound and useful advice, I have to say that we are very lucky here in South Africa, that we don’t really have such disasters, except for the occasional floods,which even that doesn’t really amount to that of an earthquake. I always feel for those caught up in natural disasters, it really is so sad, but this post really helps out a lot. Thanks for the great article.

  5. Jennifer February 19, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    You bring up a good point, Penny, that a lot of places don’t experience natural disasters. But did you hear there was an earthquake in Chicago a few weeks ago? The main problem with disasters is people are caught unaware. I think a contingency plan is important for every business — whether you go through a natural disaster or a manmade one or just a freak accident.

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