Being properly prepared is the key to protecting your business from natural disasters, and for a rapid recovery and return to normalcy in their aftermath.
How you prepare, to some degree, will depend on where your business is located. Business owners in Florida, for example, know all too well that we have to get ready for the Atlantic Hurricane Season every year, which runs from June 1st until November 30th.
Californians, on the other hand, need to be on-guard for earthquakes all year long. But your business does not have to be located in either of these states to worry about disaster preparedness. Just about every state in the union faces the possibilities of some kind of natural disaster, and many states are at risk of multiple disasters. New York, for example, is at risk for earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, and tornadoes!
Keep in mind, that it does not take a major disaster to seriously impact your business, even a loss of power that shuts down your phone systems or order processing for a day or so could lead to incalculable lost revenue. According to a recent study conducted by Business Insider, from 2000 to 2015, natural disasters cost the global economy 2.5 Trillion dollars, and at least 1 in 3 small business owners say they have personally been affected by a storm or extreme weather. The Institute for Business and Home Safety says “…at least 25 percent of businesses will close after a natural disaster and never reopen.”
Disasters, unfortunately, cannot be prevented, and they cannot always be predicted. The key to minimizing the impacts of disasters, is to be prepared and have a plan in place for your business. Here are some basic tips to help you generally be prepared for just about any kind of extreme event your business may have to face.
Should an emergency occur during business hours, of course, the safety of yourself and your staff is of primary importance. Every business location should have an evacuation plan for personnel and customers. This means more than knowing where the emergency exits are located. You need to designate someone to be in charge of communicating with employees and customers, and implementing your evacuation plan in a calm and orderly fashion.
It is a good idea to assign a “Team Captain” to take charge and coordinate your plan in the event of an emergency. Check into the backgrounds of your employees for anyone that has had military, or other kinds of training that would make him or her ideal for this role.
Many businesses find it helpful to bring in an expert for some additional training, or workshops to discuss what to do in case of an emergency. This can cover everything from crowd control techniques, to basic first aid, to how to work with emergency response teams.
IT and Communication
Once you have a plan for the personal safety of all people on your premises, the next important thing is your communications and records. Make sure all employees keep their mobile phones charged. This may seem like a “no-brainer,” but most people do not charge their phones until the battery is almost dead. Mobile phones may be the only line of communication in a disaster. Keeping phones charged, and even having an extra battery or two, is a great way to make sure phone communication stays open. Have a phone chain for employees to pass along vital information to one another.
In addition to having a plan in place for employee communications, you need to know who to contact in an emergency, and how they can help. Be sure you have contact information for:
- Local and state police
- Fire department and emergency medical services
- Local government officials, emergency management office
- Local public health agency
- Local American Red Cross chapter
- National Weather Service
- Utility companies
- Neighboring businesses
Almost as important as communications, and extremely vital to your recovery after a disaster, is backing up your data. Everything should be backed-up, from business records to human resources data. Protecting your vital data and records is essential. Are your servers backed up? Off premises or cloud computer servers are the best way to make sure that accounting and other key records and critical compunctions such as emails, are maintained in the event of fire or other disaster that results in the destruction of your building.
Part of your disaster preparedness plans should include making daily electronic backups of important documents, files and databases. You need to make copies of those records and store them in an off-site, physically secure facility. Articles of incorporation, accounts receivable, client records and important personnel and administrative documents should be among the priorities for back-up.
How MBAF Can Help
If you do not already have a data backup and recovery plan in place, our IT professionals can help you to implement one. Moreover, in the aftermath of a storm or other disaster, you may be facing more than merely physical damage as your business tries to recover.
By combining traditional accounting practices and investigative techniques, MBAF can provide forensic accounting services to help give a disaster-stricken operation an advantage. should any legal issues arise.
Forensic accounting is also invaluable when insurers question claims and when important financial records are lost. By recreating documentation, forensic accounting can help decipher the true value of property and help rebuild operation processes.
And if the “disaster” is of another sort, if your business is a victim of digital tampering, sabotage or fraud, forensic accounting can help to uncover the truth and resolve problems.
Other Steps to Stay Prepared For Disasters
Insurance is another thing that can help you to be prepared to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Remember, even if you follow every other tip in this article that is no guarantee you will come out of a disaster completely unscathed. That is where insurance comes in, to help get any damage repaired, and get you businesses up and running again. Now is a good time to review your business insurance policies and be sure you know what they do and do not cover, and make any adjustments that may be necessary.
Relating to insurance, you need to make sure you have a complete and up to date inventory of everything on your promises. If you are a retail business, that doesn’t just mean “your inventory” as in what you have available “for sale,” but a complete “inventory” of your business, including all computers and business machines, other equipment, company vehicles, and even office supplies. A written list is good, but it is a great idea to also include pictures of everything; this will help insurance adjusters evaluate your losses, and process your claim more quickly.
And finally, stock up on supplies. Think of what you’ll need to stay functional for at least a week or two. In the days or weeks following a flood, hurricane or other natural disaster, you may not be able to get to retail stores or receive any deliveries. Do you have the supplies you need to keep it business as usual? Now is the time to make sure you have an adequate supply of everything from bottled water to office supplies.
A disaster preparedness plan for your business is one of those things that you have, but hope you never use, rather than need, and wish you had! Proper disaster planning can go a long way to giving you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your business is ready, willing, and able to shift into disaster response mode, whenever it may be necessary.
Important phone numbers and websites to have on hand:
- National Weather Service Live Severe Weather Prediction Center: https://www.spc.noaa.gov/
- National Hurricane Center: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
- American Red Cross Food, Shelter, and Financial Assistance: 1-866-438-4636; www.redcross.org
- Florida Division of Emergency Management: (850) 413-9969; www.floridadisaster.org
- New York State Office of Emergency Management: (518) 292-2200; https://www.dhses.ny.gov/oem/
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Registration: 1-800-621-3362; www.fema.gov
- Florida Department of Financial Services Storm Line and Insurance Claim Hotline: 1-800-227-8676; www.fldfs.com
- The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety: www.DisasterSafety.org