Emergency preparedness tips for small business
As the pandemic and recent weather events have shown us, disaster can strike at any time. While you can’t prepare for every scenario (who could’ve predicted a pandemic!), planning how you and your company would respond to common disasters is the best way to reduce your financial risk should one occur.
How to create a disaster preparedness plan
According to FEMA, about 25 percent of businesses don’t reopen after a disaster. Because disasters can take many forms—and the cost of bouncing back can be significant—developing an emergency preparedness plan is one of the most important steps you can take as a small business owner. Here are some tips.
- Assess your risk. Despite our care and best intentions, every business has its weaknesses. Conduct an assessment to determine your risks for common hazards like wildfires, power outages, hurricanes, flooding, and cyber attacks. Check out the Ready Rating service from the American Red Cross to help assess your business’ risk.
- Get your staff involved. Craft and execute your company’s disaster plan with your staff’s input and assistance. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recommends:
- Organizing a team to develop your plan
- Gathering the critical documents and information necessary to make decisions
- Determining and prioritizing your company’s most important processes and operations
- Identifying the hazards and potential disruptions that may impact your operations
- Developing a communications plan to disseminate information after a disaster, including current emergency contact lists for employees, vendors, suppliers, and other key stakeholders.
- Creating a plan that is easy to understand and execute (more on that below)
- Create a plan. Your emergency preparedness plan is your guide to getting back to business as usual. As such, it should reflect the unique needs and operating procedures of your business. Take that list of risks you made in step one and brainstorm ways to insulate your business from those risks. Near a river that often overflows its banks? Consider storing all-important paperwork on a higher floor or at another location. Potentially in the path of destruction from wildfires? Make sure your building has appropriate firewalls and extinguishing systems.
A checklist is an easy way to create a plan that’s simple to follow. Here are a few samples to consider:
- IRS Guide for Preparing for Disaster
- Ready.gov Business Preparedness Toolkits (specific kits for types of disasters)
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Emergency Preparedness Guides
- Operationalize your plan. A plan is just paper (or pixels on a screen) if your staff isn’t clear on how to implement it. Here’s how:
- Recruit and train employee volunteers who can effectively manage your company’s disaster response efforts.
- Back up and store important records and data, such as policy details, at an off-site location. Your IT partner can help you accomplish this.
- Take proactive steps now to mitigate the impact of a future disaster on equipment, buildings, facilities, inventory, and storage.
- Review your insurance policy and options to make sure you’re adequately covered.
- Run disaster drills and update your plan as needed, usually annually.
What to do if your business is affected by a disaster
In the event of a disaster, run through each step of your emergency plan. If company assets were damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster, you might be eligible for a low-interest disaster recovery loan through the SBA. This money can be used to repair and replace real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory, and other business assets. For financial losses, an SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL) may help. There is no cost to apply to either program, and you are under no obligation to accept a loan if approved.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As laws change regularly, you should refer to your state legislation and/or an advisor for specific legal counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workers’ compensation insurance or check your current rate in 3 minutes.