Almost 40 percent of small businesses never reopen after a natural disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That's a troubling statistic, but having a disaster recovery plan can greatly improve your odds of survival.
The focus of a disaster recovery plan should be on analyzing your business's potential weaknesses and taking proactive steps to mitigate those vulnerabilities. Here are five steps you can take now:
1. Review your insurance.
Make sure your insurance is adequate to help you make a full recovery if disaster strikes. Costs should cover the loss of your building, inventory or other assets, as well as the losses incurred from having to shut your doors in the immediate aftermath of the event.
If it's been awhile, meet with your insurance agent to talk in-depth about what you would need to keep going after a flood, fire or other disaster. Your peers are also a great resource to help you figure out what you need and what you don't: Ask your local chamber of commerce or industry organization for information on certain types of coverage or other tips and advice.
2. Have a plan to secure your business and assets.
Educate your team before the advent of a potentially destructive event. Focus on making sure employees know proper safety procedures, then delegate key duties so everyone understands their role. For example, decide who will prepare your premises to withstand a storm, who will return to the site and salvage inventory, and what course of action to take when you have to weather a disaster onsite.
Another major item to handle ahead of time: Back up all your essential documents on the cloud. Contracts, receipts and other important paperwork can go up in flames or become pulp in a flood, so digitize all records as much as possible. This may entail switching to cloud-based work systems to reduce the amount of paperwork, as well as using your scanner to make digital copies.
3. Work on crisis communications.
The national public service campaign Ready.gov recommends that businesses create a continuity plan for redirecting incoming customer phone calls to a backup call center, as well as a plan for notifying customers about the status of orders in process at the time of the incident. Customer-facing employees should all be kept up to date so they can provide reliable information when customers ask questions.
And of course, use your social media channels to spread the word as much as possible. Facebook's Safety Check feature, for example, enables followers to ascertain the safety and well-being of individuals in a specific geographical location. On Twitter, use proper hashtags — such as the name of the hurricane that just swept through your area — to make yourself more searchable.
4. Conduct annual mock emergency drills.
Business owners can help ensure the business has effective disaster recovery plans by scheduling mock drills that reinforce employees' specific roles in the event of an emergency. The American Red Cross notes that such an exercise requires a deep dive into the resources you need to have in place, and can often reveal that keeping your business operational will require more resources than you'd expect.
5. Dig into additional resources.
There's a wealth of in-depth information online to help you prepare for a disaster and lay the foundation for a swift and complete recovery. For example:
- Ready.gov has in-depth instructions on disaster planning.
- The Small Business Administration can provide recovery loans to damaged businesses.
- The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety provides a free toolkit for disaster readiness.
Now is the best time to create a disaster recovery plan. Instead of worrying about what might happen if disaster strikes, you and your employees will know you're as prepared as possible — and that you stand a much better chance of weathering the storm with your company intact.