Disaster Preparedness for Businesses

Whether man-made or natural, disasters are an unwelcome but inevitable part of life for both individuals and businesses. While a plethora of guides and informative articles exist regarding individual and household preparedness, there are relatively few resources available for disaster preparedness for businesses of any size. As such we’d like to offer some suggestions and guidelines for businesses and business owners concerned about disaster preparedness, both now and in the future.

To start with, we should note your business will have its own unique needs based on the nature of the business, your chosen industry, your customer base, and your location. Our suggestions here will hopefully give you a conceptual disaster preparedness framework that will allow you to create your own disaster plan which addresses those needs, rather than giving you a generic checklist to follow.

The First Step

The first step is assessing the most likely disasters to affect your business. Coastal businesses may be more concerned with flooding or hurricanes and the resulting utility outages and supply disruptions, while businesses further north may wish to plan around blizzards. Urban businesses while likely to wish to focus on potential man-made disasters, such as urban fires, terror attacks, or widespread social disruption resulting in an unforeseen shutdown. A frank and honest assessment of the risk and possibilities is vital to everything that comes next.

Step Two

Step two is to consider your business’s location—and this is where the particular start to add up. You have to think both regionally, as we outlined above, and specifically. Examples of the latter include: is your business in a downtown business/retail district or relatively isolated in an office park? Do you own or lease/rent your space? Are you on the ground floor or located in a high-rise? Is there a busy highway nearby or are you off the beaten path a bit? It may help to write a list of the traits regarding your business location and use them to help plan.

Starting your Disaster Preparedness Plan

At a minimum you’ll want the following:

  • An evacuation plan: this is as simple as it sounds. How will you get everyone out of the building in the event of a fire or other emergency? From there, how will you get everyone home safely should the need arise?
  • A plan to secure your space should the need arise. EG, how will you keep your business and property safe should a disaster occur?
  • A continuity plan: how will you maintain continuity of communications and data during and after the disaster? How will you reopen and recover?

Let’s take them each one by one.

An evacuation plan will likely be the simplest component. Fire code demands that most businesses have one, and your local fire department can likely explain the best course of action for getting everyone out of the building quickly and safely. Additional measures like adequate fire alarms, smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, and fire extinguishers can help a great deal. However, we would suggest a step or two beyond the immediate “clear the building” fire drill. You may want to think about how you’ll ensure your employees and staff get home safely. You should definitely consider the circumstances that would trigger you to proactively close the business: e.g. an inbound hurricane, earthquake damage, fire, or the like. A little thought directed towards these questions and the resulting plan can save time and tears later on.

Once you’ve ensured the people are safe, you may want to invest some time and energy into securing your physical property. Once again, this depends on both your situation and the disaster you anticipate. In the hurricane zone, you may want to ensure you can board up windows and doors, move property off the floor to a higher surface in case of flooding, and that you have heavy plastic and duct tape available to wrap up vulnerable equipment like computers and printers to protect them from potential water damage. Roll down shutters on doors and windows can be useful for a great many emergency situations. Businesses with temperature-sensitive inventory may wish to invest in a backup generator and ensure it remains in good working order. Some easily portable items—laptops, cash on hand, particularly valuable inventory—may be included in your evacuation/closure plan as you will likely want to take them with you for security’s sake.

It goes without saying you’ll want to have adequate insurance coverage for your situation, but as with all things, it’s best to double-check and make sure before the need arises.

Finally, we’ll address your continuity plan. This comes in several parts, starting with ensuring you have the ability to continue your business during and after the disaster. How will you stay in communication with your staff, your clients, and your vendors as the situation evolves? You may wish to ensure you have contact info stored on your phone or other mobile devices, and other key people in your organization do likewise. If you plan on working from a second location, can you access critical data, files, and customer/client information from there? Who has keys or security cards for the building, and do they work? It’s best to test this in advance rather than risk an unpleasant surprise the day you need them.

Part of continuity for many businesses is data security, and here we’ll make a recommendation. Cloud backups are necessary for most businesses these days, but we’ll also suggest having a physical backup of critical data in a format you can carry with you such as an external hard drive. The reason is simple: downloading large files from the cloud can be slow and tedious under the best of circumstances, and double so in the wake of a disaster. A physical backup may give you much faster access to the data you need when you need it. This may allow you to get your business and your life back on track far more quickly than you may have.

A final thought on continuity: you may wish to give some thought to your business’s chain of command. If the CEO is out of touch, who makes vital decisions, and when? For small businesses, this may be relatively easy, but for larger organizations, a bit of planning and a defined leadership continuity plan may be in order. Again, it’s best to think about these things in advance.

We know this is a lot to take in, but if you proceed step by step you’ll be well on your way to identifying the best disaster preparedness plans for you and your business should the worst occur. OmniStar Financial Group believes strongly that a solid plan is a vital foundation for success, whether you’re preparing for a natural disaster, growing a successful business, or getting ready to enjoy your retirement. We pride ourselves on delivering expert and personalized guidance to each of our clients, so get in touch today and let’s start building your future.