September is National Preparedness Month, an observance created by the Department of Homeland Security. This year’s theme: "Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” The theme for week one is “Make a Plan.” With the hurricane season underway as demonstrated by Hurricane Ida and disasters in Tennessee and North Carolina in recent memory, now’s the time to take action.
While the information on Ready.gov is geared to preparedness by individuals and families, it’s a good reminder for businesses to make plans too. The following information is drawn from several prior blogs on this subject.
Why you need to prepare now
It’s been repeatedly reported (and attributed to the American Red Cross or FEMA) that 40% of small businesses never reopen after a disaster. Unfortunately, disasters can strike any business anywhere. While hurricane season is on my mind (because I’m in Florida), there are many other disasters, including wildfires (in the West), flooding (in many Gulf states and along the East coast), and riots and civil unrest (as seen this year in cities such as Portland, OR, Chicago, and Minneapolis).
Use a 4-step approach
I’ve created this approach by cobbling together information from various resources. Much of this is common sense and giving considerable thought to “what if’s.” The key to the 4-step approach is actually doing it. Adapt the steps to your situation.
Step 1: Protect your people.
Educate your staff about your disaster plans and be sure they are included in necessary actions. Advise them about contact information (e.g., a non-public page on the company website) for special instructions during a disaster. Suggest they make disaster preparedness plans for their family. And think about special needs in your workplace. For example, be sure there are arrangements to assist employees with disabilities (e.g., helping a wheelchair-bound employee out of the building when there’s no electricity for an elevator).
Also consider training staff (those who want to do so) on CPR and basic first aid—and do practice drills simulating disaster situations.
Step 2: Protect property.
Do what’s needed for your property. This may include having a generator to keep electricity going so that food (e.g., for a deli or convenience store) does not spoil. One business owner I know put his copiers and other equipment into shrink wrap when a hurricane was imminent.
Check the extent of your property coverage under your business owners policy. Since you last obtained coverage, you may have acquired new, expensive, equipment, machinery, or other property. Be sure this and other needs are adequately insured. Review flood insurance coverage for your business. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program provides coverage for businesses up to set limits for a building and contents. Private coverage may be desirable for greater protection.
Step 3: Protect important documents and information.
Information that isn’t stored in the cloud should be backed up regularly (as if you didn’t know this). Paper documents should be protected in waterproof containers (e.g., ziplock bags); scan images of these documents for extra protection in case the originals are nonetheless destroyed.
Step 4: Keep a preparedness checklist handy.
This avoids the need to “think” in the midst of confusion caused by an incident; you just follow the actions in your checklist. Also be sure to have key numbers in your contact list, including:
- Small Business Administration (SBA): 800-359-2227
- FEMA: 800-621-3362
- Your insurance company and agent’s contact information
Tap into numerous resources for help in planning
Many government agencies, organizations, and private companies offer templates and other guidance on crafting your own disaster preparedness (and recovery) plan. Some of these include:
- American Red Cross
- Insurance Information Institute
- The Hartford
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
On a personal note, I can attest to the trauma of a disaster and have since followed the steps listed above. I’ve had some serious hurricane experience. I was at my mom’s house in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew. And I experienced Hurricane Sandy up close and personal (I was without power and out of business for 11 days, and I also broke my foot the day after the storm when I went out to see the damage). Hurricanes are no fun, but they—and other disasters—happen. Again, be prepared.