Every Business Needs a Disaster Preparedness Plan

The Best Time to Take Action Is Now

by Jolie Spiers

I meet with small business owners every day and most of them share the same pain point: so much to do and so little time. So it pains me to add another item to the to-do list by suggesting the creation of a disaster prep plan. Especially since hurricane season is already here—it began June 1 and goes through November 30—it’s a good time to think about putting disaster preparedness plans in place should the unthinkable happen. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Asking yourself a few questions can help you to assess your business’s risk factors and get the planning process started. For example, has your business increased in size or scope since your insurance policy was written? You’ll want to make sure that coverage matches your current needs. How about your web presence? This is particularly important for retail businesses as we learned during the pandemic. Do you have systems in place for customers to purchase from you online if your storefront is closed?

Finally, how vulnerable is your location to flooding or other storm damage? Make a list of supplies you may need to prepare and secure your business’s infrastructure.

Your business assessment will be the catalyst for your preparedness plan. This doesn’t need to be a forty-page disaster manifesto, just a punch list that you’ll be glad to have at the ready should chaos occur.

Your planning should encompass the people upon which your business depends. Include your key contacts: partners, staff, customers/clients, suppliers and vendors plus your BAIL team (banker, accountant or bookkeeper, insurance agent, and legal/business attorney). Likely these folks already reside in your phone contacts but you may wish to have a backup lists too.

Speaking from experience, it is so important to document your assets. Take photos and/or videos of your business.

Include equipment, furniture and inventory and list their current values. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, take pictures of the interior and exterior. Back up your computer systems and files. Also, make sure you have the passcodes and numbers needed to operate any office systems and accounts from a remote location.

Full disclosure, my many business account usernames and passcodes are written on various scraps of paper which I have tucked in a file at my desk. I think I’m doing great because they’re all in one place, conveniently forgetting that Hurricane Katrina flooded my entire office building and the contents of my desk were a soggy, moldy, useless mess.

The pandemic revealed that cash on hand to cover an abrupt pause in business and other unexpected expenses was a determining factor in a business’s ability to weather the storm—pun intended. At a minimum, take a look at your books to determine how much money you’d need to stay in operation for two months or until an SBA disaster loan can float you.

So now you’ve assessed, and you’ve planned, but don’t stop before following through. If you’re not inclined to make a ‘go bag’, at least make the list of documents and other items you won’t want to leave behind in an emergency. Legal documents, financial statements, tax returns, cash reserves and your bank records including checks and credit cards. It’s much easier to have a written list to work from when you are in a time crunch and feel under pressure.

Although I’ve focused on the example of a hurricane, we know that disruptions can come in the form of road closures and interminable construction, cyberattacks, or even losing a key employee or partner. Having backup systems in place and an executable plan, even at the macro level, can give you the confidence to be ready for anything.

The SBA’s emergency preparedness site and FEMA’s Ready Business site both provide excellent information for more planning as does the team at the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center. Give us a call or visit our website for more information about how we can support your small business success.
Learn more at http://www.hrsbdc.org

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