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How can I prepare my small business for a disaster?

Answer: 

As a small business owner you should develop a disaster preparedness plan. It's just as important as developing a business plan. Having a disaster plan in place will make the difference between being shut down for a few days, and losing your livelihood.

Meet with an insurance agent who understands the needs of your business. Business-interruption insurance—which replaces income lost when a business suffers downtime becomes of a covered peril—should be a consideration. Normal hazard insurance doesn't cover floods, so make sure you have the right kind of insurance. Make sure you know what your insurance does not cover.

As the business owner, you should ask yourself the following questions: Am I prepared to relocate temporarily? What would happen if my suppliers shut down? Do my employees know what to do in case of an emergency?

Employees should know where all the emergency exits are located. A safety coordinator could be appointed—someone who will take responsibility for making sure all the fire extinguishers work, planning safety drills, developing evacuation plans.

Vital business records—information stored on paper and computer, should be copied and saved on both the hard dive and on backup diskettes at an offsite location at least 50 miles away from the main business site.

Your business should also have a “recovery communications” plan in place. Key employees can be assigned as spokespersons who will contact suppliers, creditors, other employees, customers, media and utility companies to get the word out that the business is still viable. Also, that spokesperson can keep the public informed of rebuilding efforts, if necessary.