Natural Disasters have hit in recent months in astonishing fashion. The United States has had two of its largest cities severely damaged from two different hurricanes. Mexico has experienced two of the largest earthquakes in decades. Several states in the Western United States are being ravaged by fires.
Because of these natural disasters, we are reminded that bad things can happen to good people. They are also a reminder for business owners to prepare for what they would do if a natural disaster were to strike their community. There are many ways to prepare your business depending upon where you are located and what disasters you face.
Here are seven steps to help business owners prepare for both before and during a disaster.
Steps to Take Before a Disaster Happens
Determine What Disasters You Actually Face
If you live in the state of Missouri, you do not need to prepare for a hurricane. If you live in Florida, you probably never need to prepare for a snow storm.
It is a good idea to take some time to get the key decision makers in your organization together, along with your insurance agent and determine just what natural disasters your business could possibly face.
Some of the common natural disasters most businesses face includes hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires and snow/ice storms.
Depending upon your location, you may face more than one of these natural disasters. Determining what types of disasters, you are at risk for and how to deal with those types of disasters will go a long way towards the success of your business when disaster does strike.
Create a Disaster Kit
Once you have determined what disasters your business actually faces, the next best thing to do is to create a disaster readiness kit. All kits should include the basic first aid supplies as well as batteries, water treatment, canned foods, alternative communication tools and back up sources for power.
If you operate in an area where extreme heat or extreme cold are likely, a generator or some other source of power to deal with the temperatures is a good idea.
Call Your Insurance Agent
Keeping an open line of communication with your insurance agent is always a good idea. If the only time you have a conversation with them is when you have to renew your workers compensation insurance quote and when you have a claim, then chances are you may not be as satisfied as you could be with your insurance agent or carrier.
Establishing a good relationship with your agent does not have to take an extensive amount of time, but it is something that should be regular and ongoing. Even if your interactions with them are as infrequent as once a quarter or bi-monthly, it is still important to keep them on your side for when disaster strikes.
When a disaster does strike, it is a good idea to have a little patience with your insurance companies. Remember you are not the only business owner trying to get through to them at this time and there are very likely other businesses with bigger problems than yours.
Do not be alarmed if your agent tells you to contact your carrier. The carrier is the business that will process a claim, not your agent. It is still a good idea to keep your agent in the loop throughout the process because they can negotiate with the carrier on your behalf if the carrier is not living up to their obligations.
Design a Communication Plan
The time to develop a communication plan during times of disaster is long before a disaster strikes. Given the advances in technology, it is easy to just depend on your phone for all communication. When a disaster strikes, depending solely upon your mobile device for communication may not be an option. This may create quite a challenge for small business.
Having multiple ways to communicate with your employees is essential for the safety of your workforce during a time of emergency. If you are cancelling a day of work because of extreme weather, it is important to have many ways to communicate that message to your employees when need be.
Text, email and phone are the easiest ways, but it is important to have additional ways to get your message out to your staff. Remember that not all staff members may be as adept with their mobile devices as you are. Communicating with them where they prefer to receive their messages is the best way to get the message out the fastest.
It is important to test the plan when the communications are working in order to see if your plan actually works. The practice runs should be secret so you can be assured all of your employees get the message when disaster does strike.
Create a Business Continuity Plan
Creating a business continuity plan is especially important if your business interacts on a national or international level. If your business operates in this realm, you know that business never stops.
When a natural disaster occurs in one area of the country, business keeps on churning throughout the other parts of the country. Your customers and vendors will still expect products to be delivered and services to be rendered in a timely fashion even in the event of an emergency.
There are many ways your business can address these issues, but the leadership of your organization needs to come up with a plan for how to deal with these issues when you cannot meet your obligations because of an emergency. You may even find you need to speak with an attorney to ad language to your contracts that deals with payments and deliveries during a time of emergency.
What to Do Once a Disaster Has Taken Place
Keep Your Vital Documents Secure
Natural Disasters do not take time off. If you are a business owner and happen to be on vacation when a tornado strikes your community, your business still has to deal with the emergency.
There are important vital documents that must be kept in a safe place and it is a good idea to have a small group of people who have access to those documents. Vital documents include any that are critical to the continued operation or survival of an organization during or following a crisis.
In some industries the law requires businesses to retain these records at least seven years. Other laws even require some documents to be retained for the entire life of the organization. Take some time to determine what documents are necessary, how you plan to keep those documents safe and who will have access to them.
Whatever you determine to be the best way to deal with these documents, come up with a program, determine who will have access to them and stick with that plan throughout the disaster. Sticking to a plan is the best way to have success when dealing with a disaster.
Work Out How You Can Best Help Your Community
Many times when a disaster strikes, communities find that some people are damaged more than others. This is a time that your business and your staff have the opportunity to shine.
People can have a stronger impact when they work together and using your business as a group that helps other businesses or organizations within the community can help your community recover faster. It also strengthens the community within which you do business. The more you can help, the more likely that help will come back to your business in the future.