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updated 8/30/2005 7:30:04 PM ET 2005-08-30T23:30:04

A hurricane may rip the roof off your office, but it doesn't mean you have to shutter the business.

Nevertheless, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that about 40% of small businesses don't reopen after a major disaster. This can jolt a region because the U.S. Small Business Administration says independent enterprises provide most of the jobs in a local economy.

"Small businesses are uniquely vulnerable to disaster," says Donna R. Childs, co-author of Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide.

Major companies such as Wal-Mart Stores, Chevron and Safeway Stores have the resources to bounce back quickly, but the little guy often doesn't -- and typically doesn't make plans for disaster recovery.

Start your contingency planning with a rigorous assessment of your business, says Childs, who wrote the book with Stefan Dietrich.

Think about how you'll prepare for a disaster, how you'll respond and recover while keeping your computer system alive.

Don't be overwhelmed by thinking the unthinkable. Disaster preparedness can't be paralyzed by what experts called "learned helplessness" -- the sense that nothing can be done simply because the problem is so large.

Think back to the endless news stories about using duct tape to seal your windows against a "dirty" nuke or biological attack by terrorists. It seemed silly, so many people simply threw up their hands and ignored the basics like assuring an adequate supply of water, emergency food and extra batteries for your flashlight and cell phone. Such end-of-the-world stories also may have turned people away from thinking about routine disruptions caused by severe winter weather.

Start with little things like an employee contact list. Then move on to what you'll need to stay open in extreme circumstances, including running the show from an alternative site with reduced staff. Don't forget insurance coverage needed to restore full operation of your business.

Loss of electricity is the most common third-party failure. If you run a restaurant or food store, you can lose a good chunk of your inventory.

Communication is key to any business. Childs, a former senior executive at Swiss Reinsurance Group in Zuirch and founder of Childs Capital in New York, offers some wise tips. To view them, click here.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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