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Preparing for an Emergency Can Determine Your Success

No one likes to think about the possibility of a disaster. Yet disasters do occur. As a small business owner, it's important to think about the factors that could impact your success before they occur. Click on the topics below to jump to other sections on this page, and to learn more about disaster planning:

Preparation for a Disaster

Creating a Disaster Plan

Making a Supply Kit

How quickly you can recover from a disaster depends on how well you have planned and prepared for one. Small business owners invest a tremendous amount of time, money and resources to make their ventures successful, yet, many owners fail to properly plan and prepare for emergency situations. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster. You can protect your business by identifying the risks associated with natural and man-made disasters, creating a disaster plan and making a supply kit.

When preparing effectively for an emergency, be realistic. You should plan for the worst and hope for the best. 

Preparation for a Disaster

Here are some suggestions you should follow if your business is at risk for specific disasters:

Wildfires

  • Maintain a 30-foot "combustible-free" zone around your facility. Remove any trees and flammable material, such as brush. Keep grass mowed and irrigated

  • Use flame-resistant building materials when building or renovating

  • Keep the roof and gutters clear of debris

  • Attach non-flammable, fine-gauge screening over all chimneys

Tornadoes

  • Assign one person to monitor weather alerts

  • Establish interior locations for employees to gather, preferably in the basement. Bathrooms, corners and short hallways are the safest places

  • Remember, a "watch" means a tornado could happen and a "warning" means you should take immediate cover

  • Keep surplus blankets in a shelter area

  • Get a weather alert radio and monitor it

Hurricanes

  • Have a method of notifying employees concerning work status before and after the storm hits

  • Protect windows with storm shutters or install plywood over them. Put masking tape over the windows to reduce the risk of flying glass

  • Evacuate vehicles in advance of the storm. Put them in a garage or keep them outside away from trees or other potential falling objects

  • Bring outside signs, furniture and decorations inside

  • Remove damaged or diseased limbs from nearby trees

  • Unplug all equipment and turn off the gas, electricity and water

Flooding

  • Check with your insurance agent on how to ensure adequate protection for your business. Most standard insurance policies do not cover flood damage and the resulting loss of income. The National Flood Insurance Program provides coverage to property owners. Go to the NFIP website to understand your options.

  • Use flood-resistant materials when building to reduce damage and ease clean up

  • Check with local authorities to find out the 100-year flood level of your structure

  • Consider working with a licensed contractor to raise the electrical and HVAC(Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) system above the 100-year flood mark

  • Keep computers, electronics and important files raised off the floor

  • Consider working with a licensed plumber to install a backflow valve to prevent sewage backup

  • Move critical items above flood level during a flood watch

Earthquake

  • Refer to your local building officials to ensure that your facility is up to code

  • Use natural gas lines with flexible connections and automatic shut-off valves

  • Use flexible water lines and/or couplings in toilets, sinks and sprinkler systems

  • Secure equipment, including computers, to the floor or walls to prevent tipping

  • Make sure anything with a drawer or door, like filing cabinets, has latches with a manual release

Property Fire

  • Install and maintain smoke alarms and a sprinkler system

  • Conduct fire drills regularly

  • Reduce clutter--it can fuel a fire and block exits

  • Take proper precautions regarding smoking and lit candles

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Creating a Disaster Plan

In order to protect the assets that are vital to running your business, you should create an all-inclusive disaster plan, update it regularly, and keep a copy at an off-site location. Start your disaster plan by identifying what you need to do to protect the business in case of a natural or man-made disaster. Even if you don’t own the building where you do business, take steps to protect your assets. When creating your plan, keep in mind the following:

Employees

  • Designate a safe place as an internal shelter in case of an emergency

  • Plan evacuation routes and procedures for employees and customers, and ensure that all employees have copies of the plan

  • Establish a single spokesperson to speak to the media and the public

  • Document each employee’s function and emergency contact information

  • Decide who is in charge when regular managers are unavailable

  • Create a phone tree and designate individuals who will initiate the communication process

  • Train your employees on the plan and review it with them regularly

Customers

  • Identify the likelihood that customers will be present if a disaster strikes

  • Keep a copy of your customer records off–site in a secure location

  • Prepare an alternate worksite so you can communicate with customers after a disaster

Suppliers

  • Maintain a contact list of all your suppliers, and update it frequently

  • Create a plan to keep your business going in case your supplier experiences a disaster

  • Prepare a list of alternate suppliers

Equipment

  • Maintain an inventory of all equipment used by your business

  • Keep a maintenance schedule for all equipment, and be sure to include manufacturer and service contact information for each piece of equipment

  • Determine what production machinery, computers and other essential equipment is needed to keep your business open. Store extra supplies off-site and make a plan for a temporary location if your company is forced to relocate after a disaster

  • Be prepared for utility disruptions by having portable generator

Property

  • Make sure your facility meets all local building and fire codes

  • Know where utility shutoffs are located and how to operate them

  • Post emergency numbers and procedures throughout your facility

Records

  • Document all processes needed to run your business. This can vary from answering the phones and tracking finances, to distributing your product or service

  • Develop a schedule for backing up all computer records

  • Keep current copies of all paper and computer files off-site and accessible

Insurance

  • Meet regularly with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage and know how to quickly file a claim. Insurance coverage can mean the difference between reopening after a disaster strikes or having to close your doors

  • Consider a policy that will reimburse you for business disruptions in addition to physical losses

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Make a Supply Kit

A well-designed supply kit can be invaluable during a disaster. Be sure to make enough kits for the number of employees who may need it.

Some items that you should include are:

  • Bottled water

  • Non-perishable food

  • First aid kit

  • Flashlights (never use candles or matches)

  • Battery-powered radio

  • Batteries

  • Tarps

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Gloves (rubber and leather)

  • Plastic bags

  • Camera (to document damage)

  • Tool kit

  • Duct tape

  • Blankets

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