We are now deep into hurricane season and the news of devastating storms approaching is enough to cause well-deserved concern for every small business owner. While there is no way to completely protect your small business against all the negative effects of a natural disaster, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that your company will weather the storm and quickly return to productive operations even in the event of worst-case scenarios.
In this blog post, we will examine the concrete steps your small business can take to most effectively withstand the negative impact of natural disasters and discuss how your company can rapidly restore its operations if necessary.
Natural Disasters Are a Real Threat
Unfortunately, the threat to small businesses presented by natural disasters is real and widespread. There are few regions in the United States that are not affected by extreme weather and events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, and wildfires.
A recent study conducted by Business Insider revealed that natural disasters cost the global economy 2.5 trillion dollars over a recent 15-year period and that one in three small business owners reported that they have been negatively impacted by extreme weather. Even more disturbing, the Institute for Business and Home Safety reported that at least 25 percent of small businesses will permanently close after experiencing a severe natural disaster.
Preparation is the Key
The most important step your company can take to protect itself from natural disasters is to be well prepared. This preparation involves the careful development of a written plan of action that your company’s employees will follow in the event of a natural disaster. Within the plan, there should be clearly defined evacuation and escape routes from both the office and the surrounding area, alternate secure locations for meetings, and emergency phone numbers and links to relevant federal, state, and local officials. This vital information should be clearly posted in easily accessible locations throughout your business location and on your company website.
In addition, your business location should also have some type of disaster preparedness kit, in the event that some of your staff is forced to spend an extended amount of time at your facilities. This kit should include first aid items, canned food and bottled water, communication equipment, flashlights, batteries, blankets and camping equipment, and possibly even power generators. Your company should also encourage your employees to have similar disaster preparedness kits at their residences.
Your business should also have enough office supplies in place to function independently for at least 1-2 weeks in the event that critical vendor supplies are not available.
Designated staff members should also be trained and prepared to handle their critical assignments remotely or at alternate company locations.
Your small business should ensure that all employees are familiar and comfortable with your plan of action in the event of a natural disaster. To help achieve this goal, your company should offer your employees regular training as well as occasional mock exercises or drills that will test your company’s readiness.
In addition, to protect against severe flooding or other damage from wind or water, your company should take the time to shield vital office equipment and supplies from damage before an impending weather event. This could involve moving this equipment away from windows and/or to more secure locations.
Review and Purchase Comprehensive Insurance Coverage
After every disaster, there are always many horror stories (in addition to the loss of lives) that involve companies or individuals that thought they were adequately covered, discovering that their insurance coverage worked fine against some types of storm damage, but did not apply in the case of flooding or other situations. For this reason, we highly recommend that you carefully and regularly review your insurance plans and take the time to determine that your company is protected against all natural or manmade disasters. Make clear to your insurance agent that you want to ensure that there are zero situations where your business would not be covered in the event of a natural or manmade disaster.
It is also important for a small business to realize the natural disasters that will most likely affect their geographic region and to fortify their insurance coverage accordingly. We also recommend that your insurance budget should not be the area where your business tries to save a small amount of money, as this cost cutting measure has the unacceptable tradeoff of increasing your company’s exposure to danger.
Develop a Well-Defined Emergency Communication Plan
Your small business should develop a clearly structured emergency communication plan that ensures that your company can maintain contact with employees, customers, and critical vendors during and after a natural disaster. Your plan should assign capable staff members to be responsible as the point of contacts (POCs) for departments, customers, and vendors.
In addition, it makes sense to coordinate your communication efforts with your customers and critical vendors in advance of any natural disaster and to inform them when your emergency communication plan will go into effect. Someone from the company’s leadership team should also be in close contact with your insurance agent before, during, and after any natural disaster.
Develop a Business Continuity Plan for the Worst Case Scenario
Despite your best efforts, there are still instances when your business would not be able to protect your physical office location from the devastating impact of a natural disaster. To overcome these situations and manmade threats such as cyberattacks, it makes sense for your company to make use of comprehensive backup systems as part of a Business Continuity Plan.
We recommend that you work closely with a trusted IT Support provider, such as Network Depot, to ensure that your company’s critical and sensitive data is regularly backed up in the cloud or by other secure methods, so that you can quickly restore your business operations in the event of a disaster.
The availability of alternate physical work locations as well as remote work options for your staff are also important features of a Business Continuity Plan.
Another critical part of a Business Continuity Plan is to have alternate payroll, finance, and accounting systems available as backups, so that your company can always compensate its employees, suppliers, and vendors in order to continue business operations.
Natural disasters are an unfortunate part of life, but if your small business follows these recommendations, you will be able to significantly mitigate their negative impact and effectively continue your business operations.