Small Business and Startups: Prepare For the Worst

Disaster strikes. Extreme weather events, fires, data storage failures, illness or even the death of a key team member can occur at any time and when something happens, will your small business be prepared? According to ReadWrite, 74% of small businesses do not have a disaster plan and 84% don’t even carry insurance against natural events. Preparing for a disaster is a simply matter of reviewing your vulnerabilities, developing a detailed plan, and training your employees for the inevitable.

When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast last fall, thousands of businesses were impacted with many forced to close and many others experiencing physical damage ranging from fairly mild to very severe. 6 months later and some of these businesses have yet to reopen and others have gone out of business altogether. But disaster does not always come with howling winds and driven rain. Sometimes it is as banal as a drive failure and sometimes as tragic as an injury or death. The point is that every business should take the time to think through how an emergency could affect your business and what you would need to do to keep operations going. Preparing for disaster is not particularly time-consuming nor is it expensive, but the benefit to your business can be meaningful.

Here are 8 thoughts on what you can do to prepare your business for emergencies of all stripes:

1. Write a plan, for goodness sake! 
Start by conducting a risk assessment and taking inventory of your company’s specific risks: natural disaster, weather-connected, and personnel-related. Before you write the actual plan, you need to understand your company’s vulnerabilities, so you will need to carefully consider what will happen if the power goes out or if key hardware fails or if your office is flooded or if your phones go dead? Then take all of that data and put it on paper; at the very least, your plan should clearly designate who is in charge during emergency situations; a protocol or system for warning employees about emergencies and communicating with local authorities; procedures addressing any special needs of employees with disabilities or medical conditions.; plans for employees to follow for evacuation or , sheltering-in-place and procedures for responding injuries or other medical situations.

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2. Know where you are.
Your region may have specific types of disasters that are more likely than others. For instance, if you are located in Florida, there is a good chance that sooner or later a hurricane will strike and if you are in Oklahoma you have probably experienced tornado warnings any number of times. As you conduct your risk assessment, give some thought to the types of emergencies that have occurred in the past, consider which specific threats have the greatest likelihood and plan for those.

3. Create a contact list.
Maintain an up-to-date list of local authorities and their contact information and their location: local police, the nearest firehouse, your utility companies, and the National Weather Service. Even the phone number for the local Red Cross can come in super handy in an emergency. Make sure you have (and share) contact information for everyone on the team as well as their their information on whom they want you to contact in an emergency.

4. Determine the impact.
Give consideration to the real impact that various disasters could have on your business. For instance an electrical outage caused by a power station fire will have a very different effect on your business than a Category 5 hurricane which could easily tear off your roof or blow out your windows. Make allowances for the various scenarios and make sure your plan includes specific details on what to do in the event that any of those occur.

5. Back up
Many small businesses are dependent on their computers ad servers, but make little or no effort to protect their data. If your company’s data is in the cloud, you have little to worry about, but if you store important data locally on hard drives make sure that your backup strategy is up to date and that you are regularly performing data backup procedures. At a minimum identify your most critical data and applications and have a plan in place for how you will protect those in the event of a disaster.

6. Stock up.
Everything from safety equipment to backup computers and cell phones to water and food can be readied for an emergency. Many companies keep their own backup generators, but (not surprisingly) many never take the time to test and maintain that hardware until the day of a disaster when it may be too late.

7. COOP up.
Critical to any disaster plan is the COOP, or Continuity of Operations Plan. The idea is to keep your business operating even as it responds to and recovers from a disaster. Your company’s COOP should include procedures for COOP activation, a list of your essential business functions and the staff to needed to carry those out, procedures for communicating with suppliers and vendors critical to your operations, a plan for continuing operations if your facility is not accessible, and a list of records and documents that should be readily readily available to perform essential work (be sure that these are stored safely and easily retrievable, even off-site).

8. Train up.
Name a committee to take responsibility for conducting the assessment, creating the plan, and communicating internally and externally. Encourage personal preparedness. Practice with the team what will happen in an actual emergency and make sure everyone understands their role as well as anything they need to do to get to safety and stay safe.

Photo: paulmcenany

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