Last week in Texas wasn’t easy for anyone. We quickly came to the realization that having a disaster readiness plan is key. This is especially critical for small businesses, as when natural disaster strikes, knowing who is in charge and what plan to follow is key to keeping a business running.
Forces of nature, like major hurricanes and earthquakes, can have a deadly impact on a small company. It could take weeks, months, and potentially even years for a small business to get back up and running again after a natural disaster.
Here are five simple ways you can prepare your business before, during, and after a natural disaster.
1. Create an emergency operations plan
If a natural disaster struck your small business, what would happen in the days and hours that follow? Who would be in charge? Would employees be allowed to work remotely? How would you contact your team if email wasn’t an option? Does anyone know where the emergency kits are stored inside the building?
If you struggled to answer any of the these questions, it’s time to establish an emergency operations plan for your company. As you draft your plan, make sure it addresses the following areas:
- What does leadership look like during a natural disaster? Who will be in charge? How will responsibilities be delegated to employees, both on- and off-site?
- How will the business operate if its physical space has been compromised? Will there be remote work options available?
- Does your small business have emergency kits? Are the kits fully stocked and ready to go? Do employees know where to find them?
- What methods will you use to communicate with employees? Outline a wide variety of options, ranging from email to phone calls to text messaging. Make sure the contact information you have with each employee is updated on a regular basis.
- If the natural disaster occurs while you’re at work, does everyone know how to safely evacuate the building? Do you conduct earthquake or tornado drills? Much like updated contact information, it’s always a good idea to review these procedures with your team seasonally.
- How will you communicate with clients and customers? What kind of messaging will you use to keep everyone in the loop about your business?
Creating an emergency operations plan also means getting feedback from your team members. Review the plan with your employees. Make sure everyone feels comfortable with the procedures outlined, understands each part of the plan, and is ready to implement it when—and if—it’s necessary.
2. Back up important data
No matter where your business is located or what season you’re in, safely store important business paperwork. Store existing (organized!) paperwork in an off-site location and make copies as needed. Some basic paperwork you’ll need to secure include insurance claims, payroll information, and tax forms.
Don’t forget about the benefits of being in the cloud either. Create backups of electronic files by scanning, uploading, and syncing them into a cloud-based storage system. This will allow you to access the information no matter where you’re at and help keep business running smoothly.
3. Meet with an insurance advisor
Earlier, it was mentioned backing up your insurance claims in the event of a natural disaster impacting your small business. It’s also wise to meet with your insurance advisor and review your company’s existing coverage. If you’re concerned about your property, look into your current policy’s limits to make sure it’s high enough to cover a full replacement. You may find you need to invest in additional coverage, outside of your business’s general policies, depending on the area where you conduct business
4. Maintain communication with employees, clients, and customers
Your emergency operations plan should emphasize more than what to do before a natural disaster impacts your company. It also should detail how communication will be maintained during the disaster and its aftermath.
Areas to focus on in a crisis communications plan include:
- Communication with customers: This may include additional messaging through social media posts, emails, or press releases to inform your audience of the impact of the natural disaster on your small business. Be sure to provide customers with contact information if they have any questions. If the company has shortened hours or will be closed for an indefinite amount of time, inform customers how the delay may impact the method in which you do business, and be sure to alert them when you’re back up and running again.
- Communication with your team: Keep up with your team during and after this time. If possible, check in with each member individually to make sure they are safe, particularly if they needed to relocate. It’s also recommended that you have a disaster fund set aside in the event your business is unable to generate revenue, even on a temporary basis. Having a fund like this allows you to pay your employees and keep them on payroll. Trust me: They will be grateful you thought ahead to do this.
5. Regroup in your community
Small businesses that are impacted by a natural disaster generally do not come out of it as though nothing has happened. This is especially true for businesses located in federally declared disaster areas. It may take the business longer to rebuild and prove to be a financial and emotional strain on its resources. For some small businesses, a natural disaster is enough to shutter the business entirely.
However, if your business is one of the lucky ones, and you are back to up and running, now is the time to offer a helping hand to other businesses. This will help fellow entrepreneurs to resume normal operations and will show you know how to weather the storm as a team.