Planning ahead may help your business survive tornadoes, hurricanes and other large-scale disruptions.
As we've seen all too frequently in recent days, natural and man-made disasters can grind business to a standstill. However, planning for these eventualities can sometimes prevent a complete business loss. Experts suggest that even small businesses should operate proactively, replacing "disaster recovery" thinking with a "business continuity" approach. Here are a few basics to keep in mind while preparing for events you hope never happen:
Make sure your employees know what to do in an emergency. Appoint a safety coordinator, develop evacuation plans and conduct drills that mimic the hazards you may face, from fire to severe weather. Employees should also know what to do first to respond to incidents such as onsite injuries, physical threats and computer data loss.
Create a communication plan to alert employees, suppliers and customers about emergency situations if telecommunication systems are disrupted. Maintain up-to-date and complete contact information for all of these groups. For employees, develop phone trees, implement policies and processes to preserve privacy, and then share contact information with multiple staff.
Supply and Production Disruption
If your business depends on inventory or expertise from supplier partners (consider the impact that the Japanese earthquake has had on technology companies), establish contingency plans in case your vendors suffer a catastrophic stoppage. Similarly, your business continuity plan should outline a contingency strategy in the event that your own production facilities are damaged.
Regularly back up and store data offsite using hard drive storage or cloud services. To get the most from these options, develop a comprehensive automatic backup system for your data. Include incremental copies of data files so you can fall back to the most recently saved version of a file in case of deletion or error. Your backup system should also be able to completely restore the entire computer system in case of physical damage. Practice data- and system-recovery procedures in real time to see how quickly and completely you can come back online following an outage. For further data protection, encrypt laptop computers so they can be used offsite, and digitize paper records so they can be stored along with your critical electronic data.
Ask your insurer about business-interruption insurance, which may replace income lost due to downtime caused by covered events. If flooding is a concern in your area, be sure you have appropriate coverage, which is usually excluded in normal hazard insurance. And check that your liability coverage can handle any foreseeable eventualities. For more information, visit the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Disaster Assistance website.
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