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Disaster Preparedness Steps for Small Businesses

Disaster Preparedness Steps for Small Businesses

By Beth Kotz

A disaster of any size can turn a small business upside-down. A single tropical storm is capable of devastating an entire city with long-term implications and millions of dollars in damage. And following such a crisis, nearly 40 percent of all companies never open their doors again.

Therefore preparedness and resiliency are core tenets of long-term success. In the U.S., September is National Preparedness Month, and an excellent time to address vulnerabilities ahead of time and to reflect on current crisis response strategies. Certain risks may be inevitable, but response reactions will determine the ultimate outcome.

Critical Awareness

As a team, analyse your company’s vulnerability to certain threats, particularly those that are unique to your needs and location. During an initial vulnerability analysis aim to consider present response to certain threats, and what can be improved from a practical standpoint. Initial actions may include running an impact report and identifying ways to improve your company’s response to different crisis scenarios.

Small operations don’t often have the funds to external experts. Don’t worry—take advantage of the digital resources made available by the government on the DHS/FEMA or Ready.gov websites to see what you need to get started. The CDC’s online catalogue is another useful site to help begin preparations.

Building a Preparedness Plan

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, failing to plan means planning to fail. Every company needs a detailed disaster preparedness plan. This is a document that covers what your company will do in an emergency, and it should encompass a broad range of potential scenarios, including natural disasters, public health crises and man-made threats. Both digital and physical impacts need to be taken into account.

There’s no exhaustive list of supplies that you might need during an emergency - depending on your company’s unique needs and location, the specifics of your kit will vary. Think carefully about what your employees need to leave the premises safely and efficiently, and provide emergency-response supplies in an easy-to-access location.

Include in your emergency kit:

Essential first aid supplies

The names and numbers of local emergency personnel

Bottled water, a good weather radio and working flashlights

During a crisis, everyone in the organisation should know whom to contact for help and what to do. Spell this information out in clear, direct language with illustrations if necessary. Good emergency response depends on strong communication - think about setting up a specific “response team” and make sure everyone knows their role. Go over your disaster preparedness plan with your team, and encourage questions. You need safety measures in place that can handle crises without the need for electricity, and a hierarchy of command can eliminate confusion in a rush.

In any case, storing a digital copy of your disaster response plan in the “cloud” for easy online access is a good precaution. Review your plan routinely, and ensure that new employees understand it and that it keeps up with current threats to your business and the community in which you work. Practice emergency drills for different scenarios and modify your response as needed.

Protecting Physical and Digital Assets

Your employee’s health and safety isn’t the only thing at risk in the event of a crisis. Could your physical office location withstand a whopping storm? If a natural disaster comes, what might happen to your company’s most valuable documents, such as operating licenses and financial records? Major storms damage electronics - from server outages to broken hardware, a plan for data backup is critical. Anticipate the loss of one or more system components and determine how to handle any Internet downtime. IT recovery strategies may include backing up data off-site or a dual configuration of hardware and software applications.

Bolstering your on-site security equipment is critical to deterring all kinds of disasters - as we are unable to predict the actions of other humans, we are also unable to foresee what the weather may bring tomorrow. Basic additions like quality locks and deadbolts can reduce the risk of a robbery or other building emergencies, and an Internet-enabled security alarm or smart camera (which you can sync with a mobile phone) can grant you remote monitoring capabilities if you’re unable to stay on premises. You don’t need all the extra surveillance equipment a bigger business can afford; keep in mind that any steps you take to proactively protect your space are a step in the right direction.

Proactive Recovery Measures

A natural disaster or catastrophic break-in can lead to financial loss as well as reputational loss and a disruption of competitive position. Before anything happens, you need to collect crucial data about each arm of business operations so as to outline efficient procedures for resumption of business. A BIA, or business impact analysis, is at the core of such recovery and continuity planning.

According to Gartner research, BIA will enable the organisation to properly prioritise and organise focus areas in the event of a disaster. Those without BIAs tend to treat all business functions with the same priority, which can mean delayed recovery, unnecessary expense, or failure to protect critical processes and systems.

You may not be able to predict what people will do or how the weather will affect your business, but you can take a proactive approach to safety by installing appropriate security measures, reviewing safety protocols and procedures with your staff, and staying on top of local and national threats to your community.

Beth Kotz is a freelance writer and contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL, where she continues to live and work.