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Disaster Preparedness for Business Owners: An Inside View

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Expert:  Genma Holmes
Disaster Preparedness for Business Owners: An Inside View

Genma Holmes

Small Business Owner, Holmes Pest Control

Thursday, June 24, 2010 5:00 PM

Genma Holmes, who owns a pest control business in Nashville, Tenn., is a great example of how disaster preparedness planning works. A few years ago, Holmes attended a disaster preparedness workshop organized by the U.S. Small Business Administration. At that time, she heard a small-business owner from New Orleans talk about how Hurricane Katrina destroyed his business records, cut his communications with both employees and customers, and nearly made him lose his business altogether.

After hearing his story, Holmes put together a plan in case she might be forced to shut down due to a disaster. She copied her important records, she stored backup supplies at an alternate site, and she gathered emergency contact information of her employees. She also sent copies of records to her attorney, her accountant and a document storage firm in New York.

Her planning paid off. When Nashville's recent record-breaking floods damaged her business, she was able to resume operations just a day after cleaning up.

June 1st marked the start of the Atlantic Hurricane season, and the SBA is urging small businesses to prepare before a disaster strikes by developing an emergency preparedness plan. Business owner Genma Holmes knows first-hand the importance of such a plan. Several years ago, Holmes attended an SBA disaster preparedness workshop where she heard the first-hand testimony of a small business owner from New Orleans that talked about how Hurricane Katrina destroyed his business records, cut his communications with both employees and customers, and nearly made him lose his business.

After hearing his story, Holmes put together a plan just in case she would ever be forced to shut down due to a disaster. She will answer your questions and share her personal story of how disaster preparedness helped to keep her business running during the recent Tennessee floods.

For a small business, closing for just one day can have significant financial losses. The fact is, a man-made or natural disaster could strike any business at any time. It could be an earthquake, flood, tornado, fire or a widespread power outage. To help prepare, there are several simple, low-cost steps that small business owners should take:

  • Calculate how much money you might need in reserve if you had to shut down for a day, a week, a month, or longer.
  • Develop, distribute, and maintain an emergency contact list that includes all your employees as well as local emergency responders and utility companies.
  • Create a disaster communications plan, with a designated spokesperson who can keep customers informed about the status of business operations and plans for reopening.
  • Contact your insurance company to find if you're covered for various kinds of disasters. Many small businesses choose to buy "business interruption insurance," which covers operating expenses like payroll and utility bills in the event of an unexpected shutdown.
  • Brainstorm a list of tough questions ranging from "What's the biggest disaster risk in my neighborhood or my region?" to "How would I contact my staff if wireless service is down?"

Note: There is not an audio format for the online chat, and no broadcast capability. SBA moderators retain editorial control over the online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for chat participants and hosts. Chat hosts may decline to answer questions.

Chat Transcript

From : James Fields
Location : Detriot Michigan ,
Question :
Can SBA gire me a loan for my business? I need money to help.

 

Reply :
Hi James, You can apply for a loan online www.sba.gov or at your local SBA office. Make sure you have a business plan, a marketing plan, a disaster recovery plan and decent credit. Good luck with your business. Thank you, Genma
From : John Hawkins
Location : ,
Question :
With all of the fires and floods we're hearing about around the country, what should a small business owner and home owner do if everything is destroyed?

 

Reply :
Hi John, Thank for the question. Preplanning is the key. videoing and photographing your business and home possessions are extremely important. Take an inventory of items---everything big and small. As for after the fact, I met with a couple who utilize family members photographs of them in their home and business to help give a glimpse into their past. It proved to most useful. Thank you, Genma Holmes
From : Linda Cramer
Location : Philadelphia , PA
Question :
Can you tell me more about dong the right kind of planning and having adequate insurance.

 

Reply :
Hi Linda, Great question. Adequate insurance is vital to restoring your business whole. I made an appointment with my insurance agent and went over my coverages. I found areas that were lacking and areas that had lapping coverage.This insurance check up...not only gave me the best coverage but I actually save money. I was also covered for flood insurance. I had no idea I would ever need flood insurance. Thank God I had that meeting. Thanks, Genma
From : J. Mason
Location : Lexington , KY
Question :
Ms. Holmes, how much damage did your busienss have after the flooding and how did disaster planning help?

 

Reply :
Hi J. I remember signing a tune that went a little like this..."rain, rain, go away". Water was everywhere. Luckily we had many of our records in plastic containers and not file cabinets! We backed up our documents online. We had extra supplies stored off site so we were able to get chemicals for the trucks quickly. Planning for the disaster meant that we had little down time and that was key! Thanks, Genma
From : Kim R.
Location : Los Angeles ,
Question :
Though I should have a plan in place to safeguard my shop, I totally don't know where I should start! How hard is it and how much time does it really take?

 

Reply :
Hi Kim, Thank you for joining us today. Preparing for a disaster can be a simple process. Start by taking inventory of your possessions. Going through the office and jotting down the make and model of items like your computer can put you on the road to documentation. Genma
From : Leslie Weeks
Location : Ft. Worth , Texas
Question :
What's the nuber one piece of advice you would give other business owners to help us be prepared for a disaster?

 

Reply :
Hi Leslie, Backing up files! As a business owner, my life history of customers and a snap shot of my company are in the files on my computer. I spend several hours a day from emailing customers to inputting data and documenting payments received and paid. Take that away from me and I am at a loss. Thanks! Genma Holmes
From : C.H. Williams
Location : Denver , CO
Question :
What is disaster planning? And how do I do it?

 

Reply :
Hi C.H. Disaster planning is exactly what it says...planning for a disaster. In the times that we are living in...wind,floods, fires, oil...are all threats to our businesses and livelihood. After Katrina, I learned to not to take things for granted in my day to day business operations. Catastrophic disaster can wipe out a business by not being able to find key pieces of documents...like business licenses and tax ID numbers. By preparing your business for possible what ifs...you guaranteeing yourself that you will be able to recover most of your losses should the worst happen. Thank, Genma
From : Steve Manley
Location : , Ohio
Question :
Can you tell me the very first thing I should do to help protect my small business? Times are already hard with out the threat of losing it all.

 

Reply :
Hi Steve, Making sure you have adequate insurance is one way of protecting your business. Understanding your coverages and getting business interruption insurance are areas that often get overlooked. I suggest meeting with your insurance agent for a review of your policy is part of keeping your business healthy. Thank you, Genma
From : Keisha Simmons
Location : St. Louis , MO
Question :
Did your business have any damage from the recent floods in Tennessee? If so how much did you have and what helped you the most. I know that many places and businesses are still getting back on track.

 

Reply :
Hi Keisha, Yes, I did. I did not realize that super woman could not out run flood water. I suffer damage to my storage units and there was no where water did not find a way in. With my old files, having everything in plastic bins was helpful. They floated! No damage to old records! Yeah. Thanks, Genma
From : Renee Pope
Location : New York , NY
Question :
Hi Genma, once a plan is place should it be reviewed with employees? How do you involve them and at what stage?

 

Reply :
Hi Renee, Most certainly! By sharing information with your employees everyone is part of the plan of action to keep the business open. It gives buy in to the companies mission and show the employees that the company is going to thrive no matter what. Thanks, Genma
From : Charles Rogers
Location : Raleigh , North Carolina
Question :
I know that government helps with disaster clean up after the fact, but do they help with any kind of planning before?

 

Reply :
Good afternoon Charles, I think you are asking me if the gov't offers preplanning for disaster..yes, this web chat as well a website and ongoing classes offered at SBA offices around the country. We have one locally here in Nashville and there several located regionally. For locations you can log on to www.DisasterAssistance.gov Thank you, Genma
From : Renee Pope
Location : New York ,
Question :
Should I give a copy of the businesses disaster plan to employees once it is set in place? Magager or team leaders?

 

Reply :
Renee, I believe whole heartily that you should give it to everyone. I am now adding our plan to our employee manual. As well as making sure everyone have a copy in their vehicles. Thank, Genma
From : Raina Jones
Location : , South Florida
Question :
What factors should small businesses consider and what supplies and resources should be in place to prepare and recover from a disaster? I'm worried about what may come.

 

Reply :
Hi Raina, Your region that you reside in should help you determine what your needs maybe. Example, you living in Florida which is prone to hurricanes would be different from a Los Angels business owner who may face fires. Supplies and emergency preparation for a hurricane and a fire are unique and very different. But each business owner must be able to access records and contact employees. Looking for alternative locations and have records stored off site and online are things all businesses can do. The wonderful thing about planning, it lessens the worry.
From : Paul Pierce
Location : Pittsburgh , Pa
Question :
What help and assistance does SBA offer to victims of disasters?

 

Reply :
Hi Paul, The SBA offers several options to help business recover after a disaster. I found much help at the the Disaster Recovery Center that the SBA opened in Nashville shortly after our flood. You can visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov for more detailed information. Good luck. Thanks, Genma Holmes
From : Bryce Jones
Location : New Britain , Connecticut
Question :
What is the difference between the SBA and the SBDC?

 

Reply :
Hi Bryce, The SBA is a independent federal government agency that aid and assist small businesses in start ups and growth. The SBDC is a program and a SBA resource partner to help assist small businesses through training and counseling. Thanks, Genma Holmes
From : Stephen Camron
Location : Maui , Hawaii
Question :
Does the SBA provide grants?

 

Reply :
Hi Stephen, Thank you for the question. No, the SBA does not provide grants for start-ups. Thank you, Genma
From : Michael Vick
Location : Atlanta , Georgia
Question :
Is the SBA non-profit?

 

Reply :
Hi Michael, No it is not. Thank you, Genma
From : U.S. Small Business Administration
Location : Washington , D.C.
Question :

 

Reply :
It has been wonderful chatting with everyone today. I hope my input has been helpful. I want to thank the SBA for giving me the opportunity to share from experiences with you. Have a great day! Sincerely, Genma Holmes Holmes Pest Control
From : U.S. Small Business Administration
Location : Washington , D.C.
Question :

 

Reply :
Good afternoon, This is Genma and I am here to answer your questions regarding disaster preparedness.
From : Tina Bell
Location : Little Rock , Arkasas
Question :
What advice can you give me about how to best prepare myself and my business if a disaster hits here. What should I be doing to prepare myself?

 

Reply :
Hi Tina, Start by looking for alternative locations to conduct your business if you have brick and mortar location. Have a once of year meeting with accountants, lawyers, and key personnel to discuss the 'what ifs". This is key piece of communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. Thanks, Genma