Storms and flooding – is your business prepared?

It happens every year. Unpredictable Missouri weather catches us by surprise, and we find ourselves wishing we had taken those few hours to better prepare for the spring storms and flooding that follows.

road disappearing into flood waterAnd every time a major disaster strikes in any part of the country, we hear from clients about their need to be better prepared for such an eventuality.

It’s human nature to believe (or at least hope) that natural disasters will pass us by.

The truth is, busy entrepreneurs may not know where to start. They fear it will take too much time or cost too much money. But consider how much time and cost will be involved in replacing vital records, rebuilding, replacing machinery or equipment and responding to customer and supplier calls when you cannot open your doors for business.

You can develop a good basic plan in just a few hours by sitting down with employees to answer a series of basic questions. The action items to formalize the plan will appear clearly to you through such a conversation. Here are some points to get you started.

Immediate response

If a natural event is imminent, what is your evacuation plan? Who can order that evacuation? Where should your employees go for safety? Who will make sure all employees are accounted for? If you must evacuate, what plan is in place to ensure the rapid storage of hazardous materials?

flooded intersection with women stranded on a carWhat number should employees call to let you know their location and status and to find out what the company’s immediate plans are? How will you reach them quickly if electricity and land phone lines are down?

Do you have a list of employees’ emergency contacts? What are employees’ wishes for immediate medical care, hospitals, physicians and critical conditions?

Emergency kit

Your emergency kit should be stocked with at least the following: flashlights and batteries; medical supplies; paper products; plastic bags; camera; water and food (and can opener!); weather radio; locks; fire extinguishers; one change of clothes per employee (with rubber-soled shoes); business supplies (do you know how to open the cash register without power?); and spare, hard-to-find parts. A generator might not hurt either.

Once you know everyone is safe, contact your insurance agent. Photograph or videotape the damage you have sustained in the same way you documented the company prior to the disaster (see “The other ‘I’ word” later in this article).

Communication

As in nearly every situation in life, communication is a top priority. Refine your communication plan:

  • Post floor plans and identify the location of phones, entrances and exits and hazardous materials.
  • Post phone numbers of local authorities, company management and the one number for others to call following an emergency. Don’t have one number? Now might be a good time to establish one.
  • Identify your company spokesperson. If you need to let the community know your status, have a list of media contacts ready to get the word out quickly.
  • Communicate immediately with customers and suppliers. Post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other platform to let others know your status. If you have to close, when will you reopen?
  • Let your suppliers know immediately if they are not able to reach your facility. Update them constantly on the status of roads, bridges and other venues.

Information technology

Your electronic records are your lifeline, and the last thing you want to hear after the emergency passes is, “We don’t have a back-up.”

Backing up critical data should be done every day. Now that we all have the cloud, data can be stored in a virtual back-up accessible from any computer. That information should not only include information on customers, suppliers, finances and accounting. It should also include inventory records, employee records and equipment records (including make, model, serial numbers and data purchased).

Where will you store the information regarding all log-ins and passwords for various accounts, data and financial information?

The other “I” word

cars submerged in flood watersInsurance is not a luxury item. And it can be intimidating. How much is enough? How much is too much? How will you know if you’re being sold something you don’t really need?

Of course you want coverage for your physical facility, its contents and your employees. But should you consider business interruption coverage? If you cannot make sales for several weeks, how will your cash flow and ensure that employees’ needs are met?

What about coverage for any customers or suppliers in your facility at the time of an emergency? In the worst case scenario, what will it cost you to rebuild? What will it cost you to move to a completely new location? Business continuity coverage can ensure you keep going even if your surroundings are less than ideal.

You must have solid documentation for insurance claims. Photograph everything. Your building — from every angle. Your equipment in enough detail that its condition is apparent. Your inventory — both what’s on the floor and in the back room. Any company-owned vehicles. Your computers, servers and office machines. Office supplies. Signage. Landscaping. Store the images and make back-ups readily available.

If you rent your facility, you should already know what your landlord’s insurance will cover in the event of a disaster. Fill in the gaps with your own coverage.

Which businesses survive?

While it takes a strong community, loyal customers and support organizations to help any business recover, businesses that survive natural disasters are able to:

  • Take time to consider their viability after the immediate recovery.
  • Consider carefully whether their customer base will still exist in the community.
  • See the reality of the situation and adapt as necessary.
  • Implement a long-term strategy to help them sustain short-term losses.
  • Realize things are different than they were before the incident.
  • Accept that not all losses are immediately apparent.
  • Accept that even though their business was not physically damaged, they may experience some financial loss because of a change in their customer base.
  • Ask the most critical question: Does it make sense to reopen in this environment?

Related articles and resources

Your SBTDC can assist in making the necessary plans to help you survive a disaster. Contact them today!

The future belongs to those who prepare.