Tornados and earthquakes, fires and flooding, chemical spills and terrorist attacks—disasters, natural and otherwise, can happen anytime and anywhere. Even if an unforeseen event doesn’t directly damage your property, the power outages and travel disruptions that occur during many emergencies may prevent you from shipping and receiving products and supplies or otherwise affect your day-to-day business operations. Fortunately, an emergency plan can help prepare your small business for the unthinkable.
According to the Red Cross, as many as 40 percent of small businesses that are closed due to a catastrophic disaster never reopen. Because they did not take the time to prepare for potential emergencies, their employees lose their jobs. The economy of their community suffers as well. Fortunately, when you develop a disaster plan that addresses human resources, physical resources and business continuity, you’re taking an important step to protect the well-being of your company, workers, customers and the neighborhood of surrounding businesses.
In a disaster situation, your employees are certain to be one of your primary concerns. To facilitate timely communication, maintain a list of emergency contact information for all workers. This should include email addresses, phone numbers and a number for a close family member who may be able to get a message to them if you’re unable to contact them directly. Distribute copies of the list to key staff members and store one in an offsite location as well.
You may also want to consider setting up a voicemail number where you can record messages for employees in the event of an emergency such as a winter storm or other potentially dangerous weather event. Publicize the number and encourage your employees who are offsite when the disaster occurs to call it to retrieve information on late starts and closures.
It’s not uncommon for emergencies to occur during business hours, putting your employees at direct risk in the workplace. Taking a few steps to increase their safety in the event of a disaster can go a long way towards minimizing danger. This may include installing emergency lights that remain on during power outages, investing in a NOAA Weather Radio, and stocking the supplies your employees will need if they are forced to remain on the premises for an extended period. At a minimum, you will need one gallon of water per employee per day, at least three days of non-perishable food, flashlights and extra batteries and first aid kits.
The faster you can get your business running again, the less the disaster will impact your bottom line. There are many steps you can take to facilitate continuation of business, even if you have to do so offsite. Start by backing up your computer data at least once a day and making copies of all important records. Store this information in a safe location offsite. Call forwarding for your main business line can be a valuable investment. It will enable you to respond to customers from outside the office, though you should ensure you can activate it remotely. Additionally, maintaining a one to two-week stock of the goods and supplies you’ll need to continue producing product may be wise.
Many insurance policies do not cover earthquake or flood damage, so talk to your agent about your business insurance limitations. If necessary, add riders to protect valuable property and equipment. You may also wish to explore business continuity insurance. Also known as business interruption insurance, it will provide you with protection for the loss of profits as well as coverage for fixed expenses in the event you must temporarily close your business due to a disaster.