You cannot predict the future or completely prevent disasters from affecting your business.
However, you can take steps to prepare your small business for the unexpected and unfortunate turn in the market. With a little careful planning and a well thought out business emergency plan, you’ll be able to minimize the negative impact and help ensure your business stays operational.
1. Predict your prevailing risks
The first step in business continuity and emergency planning is to identify potential risks. Disasters can be man-made (a cybersecurity attack) or natural (a hurricane or earthquake). The inherent risks you face are largely dependent on where your business is located or what type of business you manage.
Conceptualize disaster situations for your location and market – then start working backwards toward effective care.
2. Identify your company’s top priorities
The safety of your employees, customers, suppliers and neighbors should be a top priority for your business. You should have clear plans for evacuation and adoption in place, as well as long-term plans for how to support your community.
Identifying the materials that are the most important priorities for your business will also help focus the scope of your emergency plan. The highest priority may be physical assets, cash or data. In any case, considering the location and vulnerability of each business property will help inform your emergency plan.
3. Have a secure backup solution
An emergency plan should include the business storing and backing up all important data in a secure, off-site location. Data breaches and other cybersecurity attacks can be incredibly costly to small businesses.
Secure data storage can reduce downtime during a disaster and help you stay operational for your employees and the public. If your business maintains any physical documents, it’s a good idea to secure them with a safe proof, fire safe as well as backing them up with digital copies.
4. Develop your plan
Diverse businesses will have widely different emergency plans.
Whatever your specific environment, market and emergency planning needs, be thorough. There is no detail worth a breeze. Consider how you can protect your employees in the event of an earthquake, or your physical business assets in the event of a fire or customers if your email database is compromised. Also, include when and how you plan the public response.
FEMA’s Ready Business program provides a number of natural disaster toolkits to help ensure that nothing is overlooked as important.
5. Establish a chain of command
Like any other workplace safety policy, business emergency plans are useless if none of your business stakeholders know about it.
An emergency communication strategy should be a key component of your plan. Identify staff members who can effectively lead in the face of pressure and uncertainty. Determine who is in charge, who is following orders and who needs to be contacted in case of an emergency. Be sure to update emergency contact information for all staff on an annual basis.
6. Mitigate potential damage
Help mitigate the impact of a disaster on your business by keeping all your systems up to date – from fire extinguishers to software.
Aside from testing your various systems for weak points, make sure your business has adequate insurance for disasters that (statistically speaking) pose the greatest threat to your work environment.
7. Keep your small business emergency plan up to date
Best practice is to keep your emergency plan up to date and test its effectiveness often.
Make sure things like emergency contact information and your evacuation plan are current and make sure your disaster kit is kept stocked and accessible. Once a year, assign employees to go through a disaster simulation to make sure each process works as intended.
8. Find out what emergency resources are available
It is a good idea to become familiar with the available disaster assistance resources in case of an emergency. Talk to your business bank to determine if your finances are in order. The Small Business Association (SBA) has many resources for disaster assistance, including disaster unemployment assistance and qualifications for special tax provisions and emergency loans.
Precaution and preparation can help minimize the impact of disasters.
In addition to a knowledgeable insurance agent, talk to a business banker to establish your finances in order in the event of a disaster.