Use National Preparedness Month to ensure your small business is disaster-ready

September 24, 2014

Read below for tips to ensure your business is prepared for a disaster.

We’re in the midst of the 11th annual National Preparedness Month, started and sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These 30 days encourage individuals and businesses to prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters, weather events, pandemics and terrorist attacks, and it’s the perfect time to take stock of your small business disaster preparedness and make or adjust your preparedness plan.

A disaster preparedness plan for small businesses is a tool companies use to make sure they’re as ready as possible for disasters and can resume normal operations as soon as possible after a disaster.  Every business’ plan will be different, but in general these are the areas yours should address:

  • List the activities and services necessary for your business to operate; examples include utilities, your office space or store – and your staff. How can you get them back if a disaster occurs?
  • Include plans for instances where you’d have to evacuate your office or staff can’t make it in. How will you continue to work?
  • If you don’t already have remote file access, consider getting it. Cloud-based storage solutions lessen the need to worry about lost data.  If you don’t use the cloud, make sure your disaster plan includes regular and thorough data back-ups with secure off-site storage.
  • Make sure you have safety equipment on site, including any industry-specific supplies, and that employees can access and use these resources properly.
  • Create a communications protocol for reaching owners, managers and staff, and consider the need to reach emergency officials, suppliers, vendors and customers. Can you develop a phone tree or text trail so that people are updated as quickly as possible?
  • Make plans for evacuating your location and taking shelter off-site if necessary; make sure to consider staff with medical conditions or disabilities.
  • Identify and consolidate the paper documents critical to your business, such as checkbooks, tax returns and customer files.
  • Take inventory of your equipment, computers and items for sale. Know what it’s all worth and take pictures. You may need these if you file a property insurance claim.

After you’ve addressed these areas, you’re ready to build an operations continuity plan that should take into consideration all of the elements above while creating a path forward.  Steps include spelling out the most critical business functions and who is responsible for them, as well as planning how the business will resume operations if the facility is damaged or rendered unusable. At this point, you know what it would take to get back into the swing of things and can research small business insurance that will help meet these needs.   Professional liability insurance is useful if the disaster completely obliterates project deadlines and clients hold you liable, while business owner insurance can help replace damaged and ruined equipment.  When shopping for a policy, make sure the policy you buy is customized for your small business’ needs. Generic policies won’t always pay for what you need to come back from a setback without missing a step. Should a natural or man-made disaster occur, make sure you contact your insurer as soon as you can.  You’ll be stressed and confused, and you’ll need their guidance to help you make the right decisions. Don’t wait until things go wrong to think about disaster preparedness, put your plan together now.  To help you get started on your own preparedness plan, visit the Red Cross online to take their readiness assessment and build your own emergency response planner now. And keep in mind that, while September is the official National Preparedness Month, the plan for your small business should be tailored to your geography and industry.  For example, Florida-based entrepreneurs will want to be disaster-ready by mid-May, when hurricane season starts, while business owners located in Tornado Alley should have a tornado preparedness plan ready by March. Do you have a disaster plan in place for your small business? Share your feedback on how you got your small business prepared by leaving a comment below. The contents of this article and the linked materials do not offer legal, business  or insurance advice related to the needs of any specific individual business. Hiscox Small Business Insurance is underwritten by Chicago-based Hiscox Insurance Company Inc., which is rated ‘A’ (Excellent) by A.M. Best Company. Additional information can be found on the Why Choose Hiscox? page. Coverages are subject to underwriting and may not be available in all states