It’s hard to believe it’s already been one year since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Atlantic coast, producing record flooding and winds. Thankfully, I was out of town when the storm hit, but many of my friends’ homes and businesses were seriously affected by the storm. It was hard to believe that something like this could ever happen — but it did.
Generally speaking, the Department of Labor notes that 40 percent of businesses never reopen after experiencing a natural disaster. Many of those affected by Sandy remain shuttered today. One of the primary reasons small businesses have difficulty rebounding from a disaster such as Superstorm Sandy is because they fail to properly plan. You need to plan now and plan for the worst to protect your investment in your business. Here are some of the key lessons learned from hurricane Sandy.
1. Assess your business risk and preparedness.
Identify what kinds of emergencies are most likely to affect your company, then assess your preparedness. Keep in mind even if you aren’t located in a coastal region, hurricanes often cause flash flooding which can result in significant damage. To determine your level of preparedness, there are online resources such Ready Rating from the American Red Cross.
2. Create a disaster plan.
The surest way to minimize a lengthy disruption in your business operations, is to plan for the worst possible situations. Review all your business operations and identify those areas most critical for your business survival. Establish a procedure for managing those functions in the event of a disaster. For example, make a list of all your suppliers and their contact information. If they are located in the same area as your business, consider developing secondary relationships with providers in other locations. Additionally, determine an alternate business location — someplace you and your employees can continue to run the business should your office be damaged or inaccessible. You may be able to work virtually or you may want to choose a location in a nearby community. Don’t know how to start drafting a plan? The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offers a business continuity program for small businesses that don’t have the time or resources to create an extensive plan for themselves called Open for Business.
3. Create a communications plan.
When a disaster strikes things can quickly get chaotic. Deciding how communications will be managed in advance will minimize panic and misinformation being disseminated. You may want to establish a calling tree or create a password protected website area where employees can report in. Some companies have an out-of-area phone contact whom everyone calls in the event of a disaster situation. That allows you to make sure all your team members are safe and accounted for. Don’t forget the power of social media. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado, social media became an important communication tool. Whatever you choose, make sure it is communicated clearly to all your team members.
4. Back up data!
Probably the most critical issue for small businesses is to make sure all your data is backed up and stored securely. As I noted earlier, only 25 percent of the businesses affected by Sandy had their critical business data backed up. If your business is using cloud-based solutions, you are one step ahead of the game. Your data should be safe and accessible from any location. For great peace of mind, Tech Support 360 Backup and Go from AT&T provides automatic and unlimited backup of data from your computer to a remote, online storage cloud. So if your hardware is completely destroyed, you can access your files from almost any web-connected device. If you aren’t storing data in the cloud, then make sure you back up information and keep it stored in a safe location off-site. Such important documents as contracts, business licenses, and corporate records should be kept in a fireproof box or a bank lock-box.
5. Assemble an emergency kit.
Keep an emergency kit on site at all times. It should include water, batteries, flashlights, a fire extinguisher, non-perishable food, water, a whistle, and first-aid items. You can find a complete check-list for your emergency kit on the Red Cross website.
6. Invest in a back-up generator.
Some 71 percent of businesses hit by hurricane Sandy experienced a power outage which disrupted business operations. (Hartford report) Many of my friends were without power for more than a week. A generator enables you to continue operating some or all of your electronic equipment and lights. It also helps you keep the environment as comfortable as possible for your employees and customers.
7. Review and rehearse your plan.
When you have your disaster plan in place, make sure you review and rehearse it with your team so everyone understands what is expected of them in the event of a disaster. Additionally, give every employee a copy of the plan so they can easily refer to it. When severe weather is threatened, review the plan with your team and make sure all your employees understand their role in helping keep everyone safe and your business open.
For more information, visit FEMA’s Ready website. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take action now to protect your business in the event of a disaster.
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.