No one wants to believe that their business could be the victim of a natural disaster. But whether it’s a Midwestern tornado, an Atlantic hurricane or a West Coast wildfire, the possibility is real. And while it’s certainly scary to think about any of these occurrences, fear won’t help your business recover if the worst happens.
What will help you recover is making a disaster readiness plan for your business in advance. In this piece, we’ll discuss the steps that you should be taking sooner rather than later to get your business disaster-ready. And we’ll also talk about the strategies that will help you get your business back on its feet more quickly when disaster strikes.
Forming a Disaster Response and Recovery Plan
You’ve probably already completed important safety assessments like evaluating warehouse safety. A disaster recovery plan has many of the same elements: identifying threats, identifying mitigation strategies and creating structures that allow those strategies to be executed.
- Threat Assessment: Identify the most significant and most likely disaster threats that your business may face. This will vary by geographic area. The nature of the specific threats you identify should inform the rest of the choices you make in composing your disaster recovery plan.
- Alternative Workspaces: Not every business will be able to move its operations to an alternative space after a disaster. But if you can, it can help your business get up and running much more quickly. Most businesses can’t afford to rent an alternative space in advance, but having an idea of what’s available in your area (such as local co-working spaces) can help.
- Essential Assets: List essential assets (such as vehicles and equipment) for the operation of your business. Note which pieces can be moved and which can’t, the approximate value of each one, insurance policies, etc.
- Essential Personnel: Make a list of positions and personnel essential for the functioning of your business, noting which jobs can be performed from an alternate space. Make sure you have contact information for all of your employees to check on their status and safety.
- Communications Systems: Identify the key communications systems that you use to do business. Common examples include landline phones, mobile phones, messenger apps and videoconferencing services. Consider how each one could be disrupted by a natural disaster and identify alternatives.
- Support Network: Find a network of contacts, such as other businesses or qualified individuals, that you can work with during the recovery process.
- Insurance Coverage: Carefully examine your insurance policies and learn which circumstances are covered. If you discover gaps in your coverage, consider shopping for a supplemental policy that can fill them.
- Data Backups: Make sure you’ve got backup copies of your business’s most important data, including:
- Account books
- Business and professional licenses
- Important contracts
- Customer data
- Proprietary information such as formulas, recipes and schematics
- Current project materials
- Insurance documents
Make sure that your disaster recovery plan is stored digitally in the cloud. It should be secure, but easily accessible when needed.
Executing Your Business’s Disaster Recovery
Hopefully, you’ll never need your disaster recovery plan. But if the time comes, don’t hesitate to put your plan into action. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Take a detailed inventory of your losses as soon as possible. A faster and more accurate inventory of damages will help you begin the disaster insurance claim process more quickly and increase your chances of having everything covered. It will also show you which essential assets have been damaged or lost and where your recovery funds need to be deployed.
- Photograph and/or take videos of all damage and losses that your business has suffered. Keep them well-organized and in a secure cloud storage location. These can be incredibly important for increasing your leverage with an insurance company.
- Consider opening with limited services rather than staying closed until your business can fully recover. Every day your business stays shuttered means lost income and even potentially lost clients and customers.
- Communicate early and often with everyone from creditors to employees to clients. Take note of which channels need to be used for which types of communication—social media and email for retail customers, direct communication via phone and email for creditors, etc.—and give employees defined responsibilities for communicating with certain stakeholders.
- Make your leadership visible. In difficult times, it’s more important than ever that your company features confident communications from a leadership figure. This is an important opportunity for people like CEOs and owners to step up and take action in the public sphere.
- Work with disaster management authorities to determine the safest course of action for reopening your business. Follow any rules and safety advice that they provide. This is especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which additional safety rules for disaster recovery will likely apply.
- Check whether local, state or federal government agencies are offering disaster recovery loans and grants. The sooner your business can apply for these, the sooner your application can usually be processed.
- Small businesses should use their greater agility to their advantage when recovering from a disaster. Smaller companies can often pivot more quickly and bypass endless strategy meetings in favor of a lean and aggressive operations style. Leverage this capability to boost your recovery and bring your business out stronger.
- Pay careful attention to safety practices, especially in critical areas such as using the correct warehouse safety products. You and your employees can’t afford injuries and accidents while you’re trying to recover from a disaster.
A natural disaster doesn’t have to be the end of the road, but you’ll need to make sure your detour is planned out as well as it can be. And, should you need to execute your disaster plan, remain as calm as possible and don’t be afraid to accept the help that’s available.