Is Your Business Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

With Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on the East Coast, here's how you can prepare for this and other disasters.
Chief Ideation Officer, CODA Concepts, LLC
October 29, 2012

A smart business owner can prepare for a lot of eventualities, but Mother Nature is unpredictable. Depending on where you are, your business could be subject to a hurricane, tornado, flood, drought, wildfire, blizzard, earthquake or a combination of disasters in any given year.

With Hurricane Sandy battering the East Coast, many businesses will be affected in the coming days and weeks. Here's what you can do to protect yourself and your business.

Facing Uncertainty

Steven Silberberg owns and operates Fitpacking, a weight loss and fitness backpacking excursion company. He says the worst part about the fires is the unknown. Silberberg is already seeing cancellations for his July expedition and expects more from customers who’ve already spent considerable money and time in planning for the trip.

Even if the trip is not cancelled, the uncertainty of the trail conditions still worries him. “We may be faced with other issues such as burned trees and brush blocking the trails, mud erosion into water sources and other things like that,” he says. All he can do is take a wait-and-see approach and begin preparing for the next adventure if the upcoming one is cancelled.

Have a Plan

As a small business owner, you have to not only worry about your personal safety when disaster strikes, but that of your business, its employees, its inventory and its customers.

FEMA recommends developing a plan for worst-case scenarios. Each type of the natural disaster brings with it its own set of problems, so be prepared for the situations that may directly affect your business. In your plan, be sure to address your company’s hazards, identify vulnerabilities and analyze potential impacts any disaster could have on your business, both physically and virtually.

Tracey Forbes, business continuity expert at SunGard Availability, says the plan should include steps a business should take to move personnel out of harm’s way, what people should do and where they should go if business is disrupted and what situations would demand a shut-down. “The physical safety and psychological well-being of employees should always be the top priority in a company's business continuity plan,” she says.

Build an emergency kit customized for your business, but every kit should include staples such as:

  • Water: one gallon per person per day, for drinking and sanitation

  • Food: at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food

  • Battery-powered radio

  • Flashlights and batteries

  • First-Aid kit

  • Whistle to signal for help

  • Dust mask or cotton t-shirt to help filter the air

  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

  • Can opener for food

Forbes suggests inquiring about your vendors’ continuity plans. If their business is disrupted due to a natural disaster it may impact your business as well, and you should be prepared in case of an emergency.

Protect Your Data

With today’s dependence on technology, business owners must also be prepared for disruption of their digital infrastructures. Critical data should be backed up to secure cloud servers, which allows you to access your information from any location. It will also help if your servers and networks are temporarily or permanently offline due to storm damage.

There are several mobile applications on the market that can help during a disaster, especially if you are trapped or injured. Mashable listed a few of the top apps which can be used during an emergency. Among them is Life360, a personal alert system that enables you to make contact with your network alerting them to your whereabouts and well-being. As a business owner, you could set up emergency contacts for each of your employees in case disaster strikes during working hours.

Consider Alternatives

Alternative power sources will be beneficial in times of disasters. CableOrganizer.com, a Ft. Lauderdale-based online retailer, has integrated a solar energy system into its business. In case of extended power outages, the Florida sunshine will produce enough energy to power the company's critical loads, which includes computers, servers, lights, security systems, packing stations, product carousels and the air conditioning for the server room. Incorporating this technology allows the company to maintain business continuity despite erratic weather patterns.

Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.

Photo credit: Chris Schneider/Getty Images