Business in the Time of a Disaster
Weather can be catastrophic, but disasters come in a variety of shapes and sizes, both natural and man-made. So, what happens when a disaster hits your area and your business? Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place? How will you keep your business running in the time of a disaster?
This is a topic many don’t think about until it’s too late and a disaster is upon them. Many businesses provide services and products to customers outside the disaster area, and with that our customers and employees depend on us to maintain a provisional plan for continuity even in the worst of conditions.
An Ounce of Preparedness
Being prepared may seem like a low priority to some companies given the pace of day-to-day business and the myriad demands put upon people and organizations, but disasters can hit anywhere and sometimes with very little to no warning. And when they do, the unprepared business can find itself in very big trouble. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, with another 25 percent failing within one year post-disaster. They attribute this to businesses being grossly under-prepared and unaware of what options exist should they require assistance. Creating a disaster recovery plan includes many considerations with insurance and available public service being just two.
Sadly, many business owners don’t fully understand what is and what isn’t covered by their property insurance, another item that needs close consideration before disaster strikes. Properly insuring the value of your business, understanding the geography of where your business is located and if flood or earthquake coverage should be a supplemental policy with your current insurance coverage, are vital considerations. Another situation to think about is, what you’ll do should there be a long interruption with your day-to-day business. What will happen if you can’t “reopen your doors” in a timely manner? You need to plan against how the downtime of your business will disrupt incoming revenue and profits; many insurance carriers offer business suspension coverage and depending on your business, it can be a lifesaver for your organization.
For the small business owner who is not properly insured, the Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans. For some owners, this may be a necessary option for re-establishing their business, especially if the business is not insured optimally.
Also, you need to consider your employees and how the disaster will affect them. If your business location is uninhabitable, they will be out wages and work. A supplemental policy called wage replacement insurance can be included in your policy if your business suspension coverage doesn’t already address covering employee wages.
There are guides and best practices, established by many reputable organizations, which can help pull together the information you need to be ready in the event of a disaster.
What to Consider
Depending on your business, some things to consider can be:
- Your equipment and how dependent you are on it to run your business. For example, are you a software or communications provider? If so, you will need to make arrangements to ensure that any necessary equipment is housed safely within the confines of your building. It’s also important to ensure that all data is backed up in another, separate location such as a secure facility or in the cloud.
- Your employees and how to communicate with them. Some companies have what they call a “phone chain.” This system allows companies to prepare employees well before a threatening situation presents itself by training them to become familiar with how a phone chain works and how each person is a link in the chain. This pre-emptive strategy ensures each employee is “linked” to another employee and provided adequate communications on any event that will impact their ability to work on-site at their employer or to be made aware of an impending or current threatening situation.
- Redirecting your phones so employees can continue to communicate with clients can ensure there is no disruption to your service delivery. This, of course, is only a viable solution in the instance of having business locations outside the disaster area.
- Establishing multiple geographic locations which can serve as a backup plan in the instance of a natural disaster impacting a specific region. If designed properly, these satellite locations act as a seamless continuation of your business. With the aid of a “universal” database that’s accessible to all employees regardless of geography, companies can put all relevant information in one online location so details of customer accounts, for example, can be accessed when needed.
- Remote Employees: As with satellite locations, having a remote workforce is not only a modern-day workforce dynamic, it’s a practice many smart companies are establishing. This is a solution that can solve many problems above and beyond business continuity in the time of a disaster. Because remote workers need to be great collaborators, along with being very capable of working well individually, they can be a lifeline to the continuity of your business by carrying on with the day-to-day necessities of work. Obviously, each business and the needs of its customers are different, but thinking about the potential of disaster solutions and proactively considering remote work as an option for business continuity, is certainly worth the mention.
Though many businesses will not reopen, there are survival stories. Re-establishing your business after the onslaught of a disaster will not be easy, but it is doable if you plan ahead with a recovery strategy. There may be a lot of work in the recovery process or a little… either way, the devastation, regardless of how minimal, will impact your business to some extent. Of course, being proactive with a disaster recovery plan upfront will give you the peace of mind you need during a stressful situation and allow you to focus on getting back to business as usual.