What Steps Businesses Can Take Before, During, & After a Disaster

What Steps Businesses Can Take Before, During, & After a Disaster

Consider this: Nearly half of businesses affected by natural disasters end up permanently closing, according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Consider this: Nearly half of businesses affected by natural disasters end up permanently closing, according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

If a natural disaster strikes your community, would your business be one of those that doesn’t recover?

While you can’t prevent or avoid natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, or floods, you can take action to mitigate damage to your business.

Before: Prep for disaster

You probably won’t have much warning, so the best time to make a plan is well before you need one.

Discuss business continuity with staff

Ask these questions:

  • What operations are critical and what could be left until after a crisis passes?
  • What happens if people can’t come into the office?
  • How do you communicate with each other, clients, vendors, and other stakeholders and if normal channels are down?
  • Who will update the website?
  • What happens to payroll if work is interrupted?

Create a crisis communication plan

A crisis communications plan can be an invaluable resource if you have to speak with the media, or if you need to broadcast critical information. Take the time to review and update your plan regularly as your business and technology changes.

Back up electronic files and store paper recordspphone in a safe place

Take steps that will allow you to access all your critical documents remotely. Ideally, this should be done way in advance so when an event happens, you can focus on employee safety and business.

Keep copies of all financial information such as W2s, tax returns, contracts, and other documents in the cloud via emailing yourself or using a cloud storage site. If you back up files on hard drives, make sure to store a copy far enough away from the workplace or your home so it won’t be destroyed in the same event. Information Systems Security has some other tips for preparing your computers and protecting data.

Maintain inventory records

You’ll also want to document your valuables and equipment so it’s easier to replace them in the event they’re lost, damaged, or stolen in a disaster. You can take photos or videos. The IRS has a workbook to help you organize your business assets on paper.

Check your business insurance coverage

Review your insurance to make sure you have the right kind to help you rebuild after a disaster or replace lost income. Your insurance agent or company can help you make sure your coverage is adequate and up to date.

Check infrastructure and emergency equipment

Do you need to add hurricane windows, exterior storm shutters, or earthquake retrofitting?

What would happen if your main power source went down? What about water and refrigeration? Would it be helpful to invest in a generator?

Consider what would be helpful in an emergency kit if you and your staff had to shelter in place, such as battery-powered radios, solar phone chargers, food, water, flashlights, medical supplies, tarps, and batteries.

Finally, make it a habit to keep all vehicle gas tanks full. You never know when you’ll need them to help evacuate employees or help others.

During: Focus on safety

As a disaster unfolds, the priority is obviously on safety. Things can be replaced, but people cannot. It’s not uncommon for people to panic, freeze, or act illogically in a disaster.

To help you and your team make smart choices, monitor radios and TV for evacuation orders or shelter-in-place directions. If you’re in immediate danger, try to stay calm and get yourself and others to safety as quickly as possible.

Keep in mind safety proceduces can vary depending on the disaster. For example, if you’re in a tornado, get to a low, windowless, interior room. In a flood, don’t walk or drive through waters. Ready.gov has a guide to specific kinds of disasters. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also has a comprehensive list of resources and checklists to help you get ready and to recover after.

After: Cleanup, restore, and reopen

Once the immediate threat of danger has passed, make sure all personnel are safe and accounted for.

Assess the damage, check for hazards

If there is mold, toxins, or chemicals, or if the structure is unsafe due to structural, plumbing, or electrical issues, seek professional assistance. The priority should always be to keep employees safe. FEMA has a helpful checklist with tips such as being careful when opening cabinets, checking for contaminated food, and avoiding perilous live wires and devices.

Determine necessities for reopening, check supply chains

Determine what you need in terms of staffing and equipment to keep the business going. Check to see if vendors are able to provide services and supplies, or if contingency plans are needed.

Document damage for insurance purposes

Taking numerous photos and videos before the cleanup begins can make it easier to file insurance claims.

Look for post-disaster resources

When you’ve reached a point of general stability, start looking for resources to help you get through what will likely be a difficult period for your business. For example, lowinterest SBA disaster loans can be used by businesses of all sizes to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory, and business assets damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster region.

If your employees will be out of work, help connect them with unemployment resources. The SBA also has a comprehensive list, organized by state and type, of other agencies that can provide assistance after a disaster.

Assess your response, plan for the future

Finally, while it’s still fresh in your mind, get together with your team and document what went well during the crisis, and what could have been better. This information can guide you as you re-evaluate and retool your disaster preparedness plan. Hopefully there won’t be a next time, but if there is, you’ll be ready.

Vanessa McGrady

About the Author

@VanessaMcGrady

Vanessa McGrady is an award-winning communications expert skilled in creating content for national publications, Fortune 200 corporations and small businesses.

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