July is one of the highest-risk months for hurricanes. Our minds quickly fill with memories of the devastation we’ve witnessed from hurricanes. Because of Hurricane Katrina alone, 20,000 businesses were destroyed, resulting in 125,000 lost jobs.
Of course, there are all types of natural disasters that affect small businesses. Yet two-thirds of small-business owners say they have no disaster plan in place. Dealing with a disaster is difficult under any circumstances, but your chances of recovering are much greater with a little advance planning.
Here are a few things to help you get started.
Do a risk assessment. Identify what kinds of emergencies are most likely to affect your company and then assess your preparedness. To help you evaluate how ready you are to deal with a disaster, AT&T has teamed up with the American Red Cross to offer a short assessment quiz. It asks such questions as: Do you regularly check in with your insurance agent? Do you have emergency equipment on site? Do you have employees trained to help in a medical emergency? Once you complete the short quiz, your answers will be evaluated and you’ll be directed to other resources on the AT&T Safeguard Your Business website and/or the American Red Cross Ready Rating site.
Create a contingency plan. Once you’ve evaluated your current level of preparedness, create an operations contingency plan.
Review all your business operations and identify those areas most critical for your business survival. Establish a procedure for managing those functions in the event of a disaster. For example, make a list of all your suppliers and their contact information. If they are located in the same area as your business, it’s smart to develop secondary relationships with providers in other locations. In addition, determine an alternate business location – someplace you and your employees can continue to run the business. You may be able to work virtually, or you may want to choose a location in a nearby community. One hair salon owner made arrangements to work in a competitor’s location across town in the event of a disaster.
Create a communications plan. When a disaster strikes, things become chaotic. Deciding how communications will be managed in advance will minimize panic and the dissemination of misinformation. You may want to establish a calling tree or create a password-protected website area where employees can report in. Some companies have an out-of-area phone contact whom everyone is expected to call in the event of a disaster situation. Whatever you choose, make sure it is communicated clearly to all your team members.
Back up data! Probably the most critical issue for small businesses is to make sure all your data is backed up and stored securely. If your business is using cloud computer systems, you are one step ahead of the game. Your data should be safe and can be accessed from any location. However, if you aren’t storing data in the cloud, then make sure you back up information and keep it stored in a safe location off-site. Important documents such as contracts, business licenses and corporate records should be kept in a fireproof box or a bank lockbox.
Have an emergency kit. Keep an emergency kit on site at all times. You can find a complete checklist for your emergency kit on the Red Cross website.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take action now to protect your business in the event of a disaster.
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, best-selling author, media personality and attorney. Her radio show, “It’s Your Biz with Susan Solovic” airs in multiple markets. She is the CEO of ItsYourBiz.com (formerly SBTV.com) and Susan Solovic Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.