- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

It might be hard for small-business owners to focus on disaster preparation when the azaleas are in bloom, but preparing for the possibly catastrophic effects of hurricanes and tornadoes is indeed something that should be done now.

It’s not just a matter of stocking up on plywood before there’s a run on the Home Depot. Savvy business owners anticipate running their companies even if their offices are severely damaged, and they have contingency plans if the disaster strikes someone else — for example, a key supplier located hundreds of miles away.

Basically, disaster preparation should aim at keeping a business running and limiting any interruption as much as possible.

But even owners who do prepare for disasters, which can include fires and terrorism as well as natural phenomena, often miss key elements of a comprehensive plan, said Wendy Rose, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit organization that tries to educate businesses and consumers about disaster readiness.

“They know where they’ll evacuate to and they have all their employees’ numbers down, but they don’t always think about all the issues,” she said.

For example, arranging in advance for an alternative operating site. Miss Rose said owners should be networking with other business owners, even competitors, and agree to help each other if the worst happens. She recalled the case of a local beauty salon destroyed by fire in which a competitor accommodated the displaced stylists until the damaged business could reopen.

There’s also the very real possibility that a vendor could be sidelined. Miss Rose suggests keeping a relationship going with an alternative supplier. “Place one or two orders a year with them, just to have credit established with them,” she said. “It gives you options.”

The IBHS has updated its Web site, www.disastersafety.org, with a kit that can help companies prepare.

The Small Business Administration has an online disaster preparation checklist at www.sba.gov/DISASTER/getready.html that includes link to other disaster preparation sites, including IBHS.

Although the government can help businesses after the fact with SBA disaster loans, they only go so far in helping a company recover, and they are only available in places that have been declared disaster areas. You are better off in mitigating the damage before it happens.

Here are some of the other major aspects of disaster preparation you should consider:

• Insurance. You need to be sure that you have adequate coverage for disasters that are likely to occur in your area. Your standard comprehensive business insurance package might not reimburse you to the extent you expect, so it’s a good idea to look at your policy and talk to your insurance agent so you know just what your coverage is. There’s more information about disaster insurance at the Insurance Information Institute, www.iii.org.

• Preserving your data. This means having all your data, including customer lists, order history, financial books — any information you need to run your business — available in case your offices are damaged or destroyed.

• Preparing your physical plant. Whether you rent or own an office or other site, you should think about reducing the likelihood of major damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a detailed online disaster preparation guide at www.fema.gov/library/prepandprev.shtm.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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