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Advance Preparation for Disaster is a Must for Every Small Business

Small businesses are the economic backbone of this country. Yet, in the aftermath of manmade or natural disasters, an astounding 40% of small businesses never reopen. It doesn’t have to be this way; with preparation, organization and practice, owners and employees of small businesses can secure their future, despite what may come their way. In this 50th year of National Small Business Week, it’s the right time to put your plan together and into practice. The tips and advice here and at the websites I link to are also terrific resources and ideas for your home life, to make sure your family is safe and your important personal information secured.

56% of small businesses lack an emergency plan (source 2012 Ad Council survey)

I live in earthquake country. As a result, my family has a small earthquake kit ready with flashlights, bottled water and other supplies in a closet at the front of the house. Yet, even with years of practice and experience, the information and professional recommendations can change. During the last small earthquake, I instructed the children to find shelter in a doorway yet learned later this is no longer considered a best practice. A better choice is to get everyone beneath a sturdy piece of furniture like a wooden table. This shows that your emergency plan needs to be created and kept up-to-date.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in partnership with the Ad Council and the American Red Cross, has public service advertisements (PSAs) to encourage small- to medium-sized businesses to prepare and plan in advance of an emergency in order to reduce the risk of losing their businesses. The PSAs direct audiences to Ready.gov/business for online resources to help you identify the people, operations, documents, records, customer and supplier information you’ll need to include in your business’ plan. Once you’ve created an emergency plan, the website includes tips on how to prepare and practice for an emergency and continue to improve your plan. I would also encourage you to read the testimonials from business owners who have weathered real emergencies like 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. You can learn from their practical experience and consider what you might have done when faced with such a crisis.

90% of Americans say being ready for an emergency is important but they don’t know where to start.

 

Getting your business ready for an emergency requires the same steps as getting your family ready: having the necessary supplies, making a plan and becoming informed about what to do in an emergency. The Red Cross Ready Rating tool at http://readyrating.org can help you think about how those steps apply in a business setting. Some disasters are so large that government and the Red Cross can’t do it all, so businesses, families and individuals must take steps to help themselves and Ready Rating helps businesses encourage their employees to get ready at home too.

You will find that every emergency plan includes information about securing your computer data for backup, duplication and recovery. You have to consider the many ways something bad could happen to data. For example, a computer could be lost or damaged and you might not be able to access the files on it. Or without electricity, you may find you can’t get into your office building because of electronic locks or garage gates. If your small business had to set up in a temporary location, could you? Would you have online access to important documents like employee contact information, payroll and banking accounts?

Here are some tips for creating an emergency preparedness plan for your computers and data.

  1. Make sure all computers for your small business have the latest versions of their operating systems and have full internet security installed and up-to-date.
  2. Ensure that virus system scans and system updating is set to run automatically.
  3. Ensure that every employee has a way to backup their files and does so regularly. Provide a method for storing backups of the most critical system information offsite; consider cloud storage as one method of duplicating your company      information and defending against a natural disaster that might impact your whole community. Designate someone to double check backups and restore data, and keep a log of when each system was fully backed up.
  4. Isolate at least one computer from the rest of the network for sensitive financial transactions. Ensure that everyone with access to that computer knows not to use it for any other purpose like email or web browsing – activities that might introduce malware that could steal financial information.
  5. Consider the physical location of computers, servers, telephone equipment, etc. Is it at ground level or below? Is there a risk of flooding in the location where the equipment is located? You may have limited options but recognizing the issue ahead of time allows you to better prepare for that particular issue.
  6. Document which employees have accounts with your bank, payroll administrator, bookkeeper or other contractor or supplier with information about your finances. Limit access to those for whom it’s necessary and be sure to close their accounts when they leave your employer. Create a master list of account numbers and upload it to a secure, online account. Share the access with at least one trusted partner or employee in the event you aren’t able to get online yourself.
  7. In the case of emergency, could you temporarily run your company from another location? What do you need? Who would you need to contact? Make sure you have those files in a portable format, in a locked and waterproof container, ready to go when you receive an instruction from authorities to evacuate.

(Photo credit:Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com)