Even for small business owners in the Northeast that have recovered from Superstorm Sandy, the storm taught an important lesson: Be prepared. We’ve learned from Sandy and so many other recent disasters that no area is immune from nature’s fury.
In addition to the billions of dollars a big storm can cost in rebuilding expenses, their economic impact also lies in lost workdays for small businesses. Even if your physical building remains functional, an extended power outage can mean days without profit, and even send customers and clients elsewhere.
To prepare your business for a disaster, take the following steps:
1. Store Your Vital Information on the Cloud
If your business lost its computers, would you be able to carry on business as usual?
Cloud providers exist that can store and sync all of a company’s computers into their remote servers, providing a safe back up if a machine fails. Go with a company whose servers are in a different city than where you live — a big enough disaster like an earthquake or hurricane might take out your office and their servers, even miles away.
For many smaller businesses, simple cloud options like Dropbox, Mediafire, and Google Drive may be sufficient. Set up everything to sync in real time while you work, so that if you were to lose a machine, you can pick up where you left off.
Additionally, even during a power outage, mobile devices with data service will still be able to access your files on the cloud by using these services.
2. Install an Automatic Standby Generator
Across northern New Jersey, generators were among the most valuable commodities following Sandy. Homes and businesses suffering without electricity were willing to pay a premium. Although a portable, gas-power generator can keep the lights on and power computers, the best option for most small businesses is an automatic standby generator.
These machines are powered by propane or natural gas and are permanently wired into a building’s electrical system. When a power outage occurs, they automatically kick in, requiring no action by the users. The power never goes off, and when the grid power returns, it turns itself back off.
3. Think Ahead, Have a Plan, Go on Autopilot
If a fire broke out in your building or an earthquake struck, does your business have an evacuation plan for everyone in the building? Also, make solid contacts with emergency service providers that you can rely on — for example, relationships with a storage facility and a truck rental company will guarantee you can move priority business materials away from your premises to safer ground.
You should have a plan for how your business will operate if your physical space is no longer available. Who will perform what tasks, in the event that communication is difficult between employees?
4. Get Help
After a major disaster, the government wants businesses to remain operable and aid in overall recovery. To that end, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers low interest loans to businesses affected by a disaster. Economic injury loans from the SBA can be awarded for up to $2 million, with a maximum set interest rate of 4 percent.
Furthermore, FEMA offers free legal help for companies dealing with insurance claims or problems with a landlord after a building suffers damages.
The best time to rebuild is generally right after a disaster, when communities come together and the government is in ‘help’ mode. By tackling the problem immediately and head on, you’ll be ahead of the field and back to normal operations as quickly as possible.
Chris Long is a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago area, and writes online about truck rental tips, carpet cleaner rental tips, and other equipment tool rentals.