Preparation: Your Companys Best Defense in Case of Catastrophe

You've hung out your shingle and are ready for business. But what if something unforeseen were to occur? Is your business truly ready for all that being in business entails? It only takes one catastrophic event to adversely impact a once thriving business. Recent world events: 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, the tsunami in Asia, along with other natural disasters act as a constant reminder that being well-prepared is often our best line of defense.

What's that, you say? Your business isn't located in a city likely to be a target of either natural or manmade disasters. This may well be the case, but this doesn't take in account that inexplicable chemical spill or train derailment that can happen on your doorstep or public utility failures, such as electrical power outages, brownouts or surges, which can unduly affect the daily operation of your business. Keep in mind, many nature disasters, such as blizzards, tornadoes and earthquakes, can strike with little or no advance warning.

So what's a business owner to do? Well first, and foremost, you make sure your business has an up-to-date disaster plan. It's been reported that as many as forty percent of small businesses fail to open their doors again after a major disaster. Many of these businesses were simply unprepared for a disaster; they hadn't taken the time to prepare a backup plan to better insure the livelihoods of their employees or the continued satisfaction of their customer base.

When you begin to develop your company's disaster preparedness plan, three areas should be given special consideration: human resources, physical resources, and business continuity. In devising a plan, as a business owner, you must carefully consider how a disaster might impact your employees, customers, the physical workplace itself, along with what procedures and policies would need to be in place to continue to conduct business if that disaster forces you to temporarily relocate to another site.

All Disaster Plans Should Consider the Following:

Human Resources

? Identify staff essential to your business keeping its doors open. Keep an updated list of their contact information: phone numbers (home, work, pager, cell) and e-mail addresses that can be made available from several locations (home, Internet, etc.). This information should be readily available to key staff members.

? If your business has voice mail, select one remote number on which you can record messages to be accessed by employees in case of emergencies. Make sure that your phones can be programmed to forward calls from the main business line(s). This allows to you program the phones to ring at another site if you cannot access your business. Make this number available to all employees.

? Keep copies of personnel, payroll, payables and receivables, and other essential records at an off-site location.

? Leave copies of keys and alarm code(s) with a trusted employee or friend encase you cannot get to your office quickly after an emergency,

Physical Resources

? Install emergency lights that turn on with power failures. Relatively inexpensive, they can be purchased at electrical and hardware supply retailers. Back up computer data frequently; keep a copy of the tape off site.

? Use UL-listed surge protectors and battery backup systems to provide added protection for sensitive equipment and help prevent computer crashes if the power fails.

? Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio with a tone alert feature. Keep it on and when the signal sounds, listen for information about severe weather and protective action to take.

? Stock emergency supplies, including: flashlights, batteries, First Aid kits, tools, and food and water to use during periods of unexpected confinement at your business.

? Install flexible connectors to appliances and equipment fueled by natural gas. Consider installing shutters to protect windows from damage caused by debris blown by hurricanes, tornados or severe storms.

? Install automatic fire sprinklers on each floor of the business.

Business Continuity Resources

? Maintain a minimum supply of the goods, materials and equipment you would need for business continuity off-site.

? Be advised: most insurance policies do not cover earthquake and flood damage. Discuss business continuity insurance with your agent to cover business interruption losses.

? Know how to contact law enforcement and local offices of the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies that can assist during a crisis.

? Devise an external/public emergency communications plan that outlines how your business will communicate with the news media, customers, and vendors in the wake of a catastrophe.

? Contact vendors/suppliers to confirm their emergency response plan procedures. Line up alternate vendors for essential supplies and equipment. Have back-up equipment and know its availability during periods of crisis.

Your employees are just one in a line of several defense measures available to you. Everyone on your staff should be prepared for a disaster and know what to do if a disaster occurs. Several organizations including the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Institute for Business and Home Safety, and the Small Business Administration can provide you useful information about how to stay safe in instances of disaster.

Willett Thomas ( is a freelance writer living and working in the Brookland section of Washington, D.C.

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