Don’t Let a Natural Disaster Destroy Your Business Without a Fight. Here is What You Can Do, Starting Now, to Prepare
We have all recently witnessed how devastating natural disasters can be--destroying lives, businesses and property in an instant. The challenges to a business owner in the face of a natural disaster can quickly become overwhelming. When mother nature strikes, your focus should be on protecting your people and property. Protecting your employees also means ensuring that your business—which is your employees’ livelihood-- recovers. Knowing what to do in a disaster and having an emergency plan in place can help keep you and your employees safe, and position your business for a successful recovery.
Here are just a few actions small and midsize business (SMB) leaders should take before, during and after a natural disaster. Keep in mind that these are just a few major steps we recommend. I have also included links in each section to more information that can help you prepare. Talk to your insurance representative, HR services provider and business attorney for more information and strategies on being prepared.
Before disaster strikes
- Ensure you have the appropriate insurance coverages in place to protect your business. Find a reputable insurance provider and be certain you completely understand your policy, including any exclusions. Pay attention to wind, water or earthquake exclusions.
- Make sure you are covered for all potential incidences.Know how to report any insurance claims and have this information somewhere safe where you can access it quickly.
- Take photos or keep other records to document your property. Keep that documentation off-site or stored in the cloud as backup.
- Provide great health benefits for your employees. If someone is injured in a disaster, you want them to know they will have the means to seek quality medical help.
- Identify risks that are relevant to your business. For example, ensure your property can be secured from the elements and prevent things like awnings or outside furniture from becoming projectiles. If you have hazardous materials, make sure they can be properly secured or neutralized.
- Create an emergency plan. Communicate this plan to your employees. Conduct practice drills to ensure your plan works. Here are some sources for help creating emergency plans:
Red Cross emergency preparedness checklist for businesses
When the disaster is imminent
- Put your emergency plan into action. Communicate with your employees. Be sure everyone understands expectations.
- Give your employees ample time away from work to evacuate themselves and their families, if needed.
- Make sure you have phone numbers and backup phone numbers for employees, suppliers, vendors and other resources you may need.
- Secure your business and property as much as you can, as makes sense for the approaching disaster.
- Evacuate if instructed to do so.
During the disaster or emergency
- Stay out of harm’s way.
- Communicate as much as possible. Communication is critical to keeping employees informed, ensuring their safety, setting expectations and getting them back to work as soon as possible. Cell phone lines may get tied up during an emergency but texts and emails may still go through.
- Use mobile apps and social media as community and communication platforms.
The statistics on what percent of businesses recover after a disaster vary widely but planning and preparation can increase your odds of surviving the disaster. Using an all-hazards approach to emergency planning can make your business more resilient and therefore more competitive in the long-run. This FEMA study on Business Continuity and Disaster Preparedness Planning Patterns and Findings from Current Research offers the business case for disaster planning.
Know that time is critical. The longer your business is exposed to the elements and the longer it takes to harness resources, the greater the expense. Having a plan in place speeds recovery time.
There are several sources SMBs can look to for guidance on emergency preparedness. The Small Business Association has a series of checklists specific to different emergency types. Ready.gov offers guidance on emergency planning and recovery following the all-hazards approach of The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity. Additionally, Chubb offers concrete step-by-step guidance for preparing, responding and recovering from different natural disaster scenarios.
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