Recovering and rebuilding after a disaster: Part 1 – Where to begin?

This article is part of a series of seven articles to help businesses recover and rebuild after a disaster. Other documents in this series:

As you begin to rebuild your life and your business following a disaster, knowing where to start can be extremely difficult. Here are some steps that can help you decide where to begin.

  1. Reconnect.Open for business
    Obtain a working phone line. You need a way to receive calls and reach out to family, friends and customers. If you have access to a cell phone, get your business number forwarded to the cell number. Having a way to connect via phone will also help with the natural feelings of isolation you may feel following a disaster.
    If your business location was involved in the disaster, you may have lost computer equipment and the ability to connect via the Internet and email. One immediate way to handle this is to ensure that you can receive email and have web access through your phone. Or find a local business center with Internet access. During many recent disasters, the most up-to-date information has been available through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
    As you begin to clean, repair and rebuild, hook up a television so you have some sense of connection to the outside world. At the very least, listen to a radio so you can hear the latest updates on weather, the community and local assistance efforts.
  2. Break the task down. 
    Attempting to do everything at once will feel overwhelming. As you stand in a damaged store or factory, the amount of work before you can easily make you feel powerless and defeated. Start by breaking the work down into manageable chunks. Each completed task will give you confidence and strength for the next chore. Start with smaller, more realistic steps, and build on that, applauding yourself each time you complete a task. Before you know it, you will have accomplished a great deal.
  3. Reach out and communicate. 
    In the case of suppliers, remember that it’s in their best interest to get you back in business as soon as possible, so they will be willing to assist. Place orders for replacement merchandise and materials. Request replacement displays and promotional materials. And talk about payments; don’t avoid the issue. Confront the situation, and be forthcoming about what you need and what you can do, particularly since you will likely have insurance claims pending. The key is to communicate. Most suppliers can deal with any circumstance as long as they know up front what to expect.
  4. Deal with finances. 
    It may be the last thing you want to think about immediately following a disaster, but you need to face it head-on. Cash flow is going to be a big issue, particularly in the short term. Make the call to your bank and anywhere you have credit, and let them know what has happened. Most of the time they will be incredibly supportive by deferring repayments. Regardless of whether you need this right now or not, it is good to know that you have it available. If you take credit cards in your business, obtain a manual machine so you can immediately process credit card payments. You may experience power outages as you rebuild, and down time can mean lost sales.
  5. Talk to the IRS.
    Taxes may be the last thing on your mind, but the IRS can be a very good source of assistance and support. They may even relieve some of your financial worries by arranging for a revised tax payment plan in light of your situation. Since you have many other financial considerations now, particularly the cost of rebuilding, handling creditors and paying suppliers, removing the tax worry can make other decisions much more manageable. Sure, you will eventually need to pay, but in the most disruptive time of the crisis when you are just trying to get the doors open again, having dealt with the tax issue can give you some breathing room.
  6. Keep your staff informed.
    With a business closed and no money coming in, employees can become understandably anxious about their income and the future of their job. This is the time to be completely honest with them as soon as you can. In many cases, employees with full information will dive in to help you in ways you may not have expected. Frequently, government assistance agencies will provide some funding for salaries during a rebuilding period. Check with your local relief organizations to see what is available.
  7. Take photos, and keep records.
    Our natural inclination when confronted with the mess and destruction after a storm is just to bulldoze it all away. However, it’s important to record the damage done to the facility and to your inventory. Your insurance carrier may require evidence of the destruction. Keep a journal of what you find, what is damaged and how badly, what you discard and when. Keep a few examples of badly damaged items to show your adjuster the extent and severity of the destruction.
  8. Take care of yourself.
    Remember that your physical and emotional defenses are down. You are under extreme emotional distress, and you are working long hours to get the business re-established. You are in a marathon now, and you must do all you can to avoid illness and injury. Drink lots of water, eat as well as you can and, although you will not want to or feel that you should, rest and sleep as often as you can.
  9. Talk to your customers.
    As soon as you are back in business, even to a limited extent, let your customers know. Your customers will want to support you, so let them know your status. This is when you can take advantage of electronic means of communication, including social media. Set up a Facebook page or Twitter feed and announce that you are open for business. It’s a no-cost, effective way of getting the word out. Encourage everyone to tell others about your progress.
  10. Try to find the upside and see the opportunity.
    As hard as it is, try to see the opportunity in the situation, which is a chance to evaluate your business and rebuild with any changes you’d like to make. Perhaps you can fix some things you’ve never had time to address before. It’s a time to re-evaluate your goals and dreams. And it’s a time to be grateful for what remains. Your attitude can do a great deal to lift up your company, your employees and your community.