June 1 is the official beginning of hurricane season in the U.S. There are steps you can take now to protect your business and your employees should a natural disaster hit.
The Atlantic coastline of the U.S. is expected to have an above-average level of hurricane activity in 2013, according to Gerry Bell, the lead scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration long-range hurricane outlook team. Many states in the Northeast are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy, which hit seven months ago. This week, President Obama visited the Jersey Shore where he assessed the damage and pledging continued support to the region.
“If there’s one thing that we learned last year, it’s that when a storm hits, we’ve got to be ready. Education, preparation -- that's what makes a difference. That's what saves lives,” Obama said Tuesday. “Make a plan. It’s never too early,” he said, encouraging people to visit Ready.gov, a federal web site with instructions and plans on how to prepare for a hurricane.
In addition, entrepreneurs can consider the following advice from Bob Boyd, the president of Agility Recovery, a Charlotte, N.C.-based disaster-recovery company, which he shared during a webinar Tuesday organized by the Small Business Administration.
1. Assess risks to your mission-critical infrastructure. Think through and evaluate what your potential loss of functions would be in the case of direct or indirect damage. If you are in a single-story ranch office in a flood zone, your potential loss of business capabilities will be very different than if you are on the 35th floor of a 40-story high rise, says Boyd. Because hurricanes are so vast and the damage ripples out so far from the eye of the storm, hurricane preparation is necessary not just for coastal businesses, says Bell. Determine what functions you could lose so that you can create a priority list for your disaster planning.
2. Backup your data and test the recovery process. Don’t assume that your backup technology is working automatically, says Boyd. Take the time to recover information from the backup system to be sure you know both that it works and how to access critical information.
3. Talk to every vendor in your supply chain. Even if your business is not damaged by a hurricane, your production capabilities can be interrupted if a company that provides a product or service you depend on is sidelined or wiped out by a storm. Connect with each vendor you work with to be sure it has a backup plan for continuing production in the case of a storm, and if not, find an alternative that you can turn to in a pinch.
4. Establish a crisis communication plan and test it. In the case of a natural disaster, you can’t depend on cell phones or landlines working, but you will need to be able to communicate with employees. Create an alternate means of connecting with your staff and be sure to test it out in a non-critical situation. One option, says Boyd, is a company Facebook page established specifically for the purpose of emergency communication. Also, text-message service is often more reliable than phone service in a weather-related disaster, says Boyd.
5. Put together emergency kits. Be sure you have what you need to be able to conduct business from a satellite office. Compile a business on-the-go kit with items like checks, letterhead, cash, licensing information for your software agreements and a weather radio, says Boyd.
6. Talk to your insurance agent. Ideally a business owner should be meeting with an insurance broker on a regular basis to be sure a coverage plan is updated. You need to be clear what is covered and what is not before a natural disaster strikes, says Boyd.
7. Have another place to go. Think about where your employees could work if your current office is inoperable. If you expect your employees to be able to work from home, make sure they have are equipped to be productive at home.
8. Talk to your employees. Have a conversation with your workers to be sure they understand company procedures and that they are personally equipped to manage in the case of a destructive storm impairing normal working routines. “Push the concept of preparedness down to your employees,” says Boyd. Talk to your employees about whether they will be able to bring their kids into the office and if so, make sure you have a place for the kids to be, says Boyd.