Top Five Things Your Business Should Do to Prepare for a Disaster

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Perhaps the last thing a retailer wants to think about is planning for a potential natural disaster. Who has the time to prepare for something that may never happen?

But that attitude can come back to haunt you. Every area of the country has been plagued by some kind of calamity, and a flood, drought, hurricane, tornado or fire can put you out of business for weeks — or forever.

The upshot: You need a plan for what to do if disaster strikes so you can get back to business as quickly as possible. Here’s how to form one.

  1. Get a Handle on Your Insurance Coverage. The first thing to do is make sure your insurance policies and liability limits are up to date. While that may sound obvious, it is surprising how many businesses are under-insured or not insured at all for possible disasters that could shutter their businesses permanently. Talk to your peers in the industry, especially those in your area, and rely on your insurance agent to guide you.
  • Assess Your Vulnerabilities. Start by determining the most likely threats to your business. If, for example, you’re in a region prone to flooding or high winds, begin there. Then pinpoint the potential consequences. Would you have to shut down your store? Could you possibly move to another location? Would employees have trouble getting to work?

Prioritize the most critical business functions — the operations you’d need to get up and running as quickly as possible — and outline ways to address those risks. Look at your list of priorities and start at the top. What can you do in advance to mitigate the worst-case scenario?

  • Make Sure Your Data is Protected.  While most businesses back up data, they don’t always do it correctly. An in-house backup is not adequate to protect all your valuable information in a crisis that shuts down the electrical grid or sends power surges into your equipment. One solution is to use an Internet service for cloud storage. But whichever backup approach you choose, periodically test the system to make sure you can easily gain access to critical information.
  • Plan a Communications Strategy. First, make sure you have contact information for all employees, including cellphone numbers and email addresses. You might also plan to post information on your website in case of an emergency. Make sure you indicate how long you expect to be closed, or the location of a temporary location that you may have moved to.
  • Think About Personnel Policies. If you have to shut down temporarily, will you pay your employees for the entire time? For a week? Ask them to use vacation time? Whatever you decide, make sure you let your employees know.

In addition, plan on redundancies in your operation. Think about cross-training, so more than one person can assume a critical function if necessary. And have employees write down the procedures to follow so there’s a written manual for anyone that has to step in after an emergency.