In the different parts of the country I have lived, the natural disaster risk has varied along with the geography. On the East Coast, where I grew up, there was the threat of hurricanes. In the Midwest, where I moved after college, tornado warnings were a frequent reality.
Now, I live in the Northwest with the annual threat of wildfires. When a fire got too close for comfort to my home a few summers ago, my family put into action an emergency preparedness plan we never wanted to use.
What about your small business? Are you ready for an emergency? Running a small business takes time and hard work, but you could see all the effort go down the drain – perhaps quite literally – if you do not have an effective emergency plan. Here are seven steps to take to be ready when the unexpected happens.
Identify Potential Threats
The first step is to think about what natural disasters affect your area and what you can do to prepare for the ones your business is at the highest risk to encounter. The type of emergency will determine what steps you take to keep your employees, your inventory and your equipment safe.
Gather and Store Emergency Supplies
Now that you have determined what your risk factors are, it is time to collect emergency supply items. The most important ones are fresh water, food, flashlights, batteries, a portable radio and first aid and medical items.
Your state and local governments maintain phone numbers and websites for official disaster updates. Have this critical information posted for easy access.
Create a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)
A BIA will help you predict the level of impact a natural disaster could have on your small business. Main problems are lost or delayed income and repair and/or replacement expenses.
For instance, can you make contingency plans so that you can operate during a long power outage? How will you let customers across the country know what has happened?
Develop an Emergency Response Plan
This plan should include how you will protect your employees and customers during the time of a disaster and how you will communicate both during and after the disaster.
Your plan should have a detailed evacuation procedure for your place of business. Conduct mock drills so that your staff knows where to go and what to do in order to be safe during a disaster. Here are some steps to take in developing this plan:
- Locate and store your important company documents and other property in an easily accessible location. In addition, keep copies of these documents in a secure location away from your business location.
- Maintain a list of contact information for people to notify in the event of an emergency, including colleagues, family members and your insurance company.
- Know the location of the emergency shelter near you. If you don’t know, contact your local fire or police departments
- Determine who will be your company spokesperson – the person who will communicate with clients and customers during a time of crisis.
Protect Your Financial Data
Create and maintain an internal and external data backup site to protect your company’s financial data, customer records and other company information. Train employees to save data on a company server, not just on a computer hard drive.
Consider Added Insurance Coverage
Talk with your business insurance agent about your options to protect your company from losses during a natural disaster. For instance, you may already have property coverage, but you may also benefit from business interruption coverage or data compromise insurance for your business.
Get Free Information
Many agencies offer free information and advice for storm preparedness. For example, the American Red Cross offers Ready Rating, a free online disaster preparedness-planning program. In addition, some Red Cross chapters also provide CPR and first aid training at no cost to small businesses.
Here are some websites that can help small business owners in emergency preparedness:
Emergency preparedness is not something any of us want to think about. However, once you have done all you can to protect your company during the unexpected, you can get back down to business and hope you will never use the emergency plan.