Monday Mornings with Madison

Time to Prepare

It seems that warnings to “be prepared” are everywhere. Across the central U.S., residents are being warned to prepare for possible tornados. Although tornado season had been relatively quiet this year — with only 72 tornadoes nationwide in April which was 70 percent below the 10 year average, — May brought a swath of tornados from Texas to Minnesota that included 16 twisters in a single day in North Texas and one that devastated the town of Moore, OK. Out west, California is already contending with forest fires in the Santa Barbara area and residents in fire-prone states are being warned to prepare for possible forest fires. States all along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines just marked the beginning of this year’s Hurricane Season on June 1st. Last week was Hurricane Preparedness Week. Natural disasters lurk around every corner.

Just as individuals need to heed the warning to ‘be prepared,’ businesses are tasked with the same assignment. As Benjamin Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preparation is primarily about anticipation and avoidance. Prevent loss. Avoid damage. Minimize harm. Is your business prepared for the next possible disaster… natural or otherwise? That depends on how much you’ve anticipated what could possibly go wrong and spent the time, energy and resources to prepare. It is time to prepare. Ready?

Top Eight Tips for Business Preparedness before a Natural Disaster

Every business owner, manager and employee should take some time now, before the first ice storm, forest fire, tornado or flood hits your area, to think through every eventuality and prepare for the worst. Here are highly recommended tips for businesses to follow to prepare for a variety of natural disasters.

Tip 1 – Have business insurance.
Know the risks to the business. Assess the vulnerabilities of the business. Then make sure your insurance agent understands the needs and risks of the business. Purchase the right types of insurance such as: coverage for damage caused by wind and rain in areas prone to tornadoes and hurricanes, policies for flood damage in areas near rivers and bodies of water that can overflow or surge, and/or insurance for damage caused by forest fires or earth quakes. Make sure you know what your insurance does and does not cover. Get coverage for systems, equipment and property that is essential to the business.

Tip 2 – Inventory the business.
The inventory can be written (even hand written) but a standard camera and/or a video camera can be a useful backup, especially when insurance adjusters are trying to tally losses after the storm. Put everything in the inventory, including furnishings, computers and all on-site equipment and supplies. Make sure video footage includes the building itself, inside and out. Show all doorways, windows, ceilings, fixtures, and enhancements.

Tip 3 – Protect essential business records.
Whenever possible, scan essential business records to digital format. Every department should do this…. Not just accounting or operations. Then paper records should be boxed and shipped to a safe off-site location at least 50 miles from the business site. Similar precautions should be made with business records stored on computers. Back up records and store the backup(s) in other locations including in the Cloud, on discs, flash drives or back up drives. When possible, remove hard drives from the business site.

Tip 4 – Create an internal communication plan.
Establish a communication policy between the leadership and staff. For large companies, the plan should function like a phone tree. The plan should include, when possible, the telephone numbers of the places your employees may go to if evacuating (such as family or close friends). Since phone networks can collapse or become inaccessible because of the higher-than-average call volumes after a disaster, businesses might consider establishing a web-based emergency email account for all employees. Remember that your company’s existing company email system, particularly if through a local Internet or cable television provider, may not be in service.

Tip 5 – Establish an external communication plan.
Assign key employees to contact key customers, utility companies, suppliers, creditors and the media during a recovery period. Make sure that no single individual is tasked with too much. This keeps the public informed as to whether a business is still up and running, or give updates on rebuilding efforts if necessary. Spread the responsibility so that no single person becomes overwhelmed. Have backup resources in case a particular employee is unable to carry out his/her tasks because of the natural disaster.

Tip 6 – Take the necessary precautions.
If a natural disaster threatens, take steps to protect people and property. Protect employees. If practical, provide shelter to employees and their families. If impractical, release employees with enough time so they can prepare their families, homes and get to a safe place. Establish a rendezvous point and time for employees after impact, in case damage is severe and communications are disrupted. Provide photo ID’s and a letter of authorization for employees to be able to enter a secured building. Protect property. If wind, rain or storm surge are the possible threats, cover windows and move equipment/ furniture to a secured area. If fire is the danger, remove debris and prune trees. Secure the building in case of looting after a disaster.

Tip 7 – Prepare a way to operate remotely.
Inability to access the business facility is a common occurrence after a natural disaster strikes an area. Roads may be flooded or closed by authorities. Employees may be unable to leave their homes in a state of emergency or may be unwilling to leave their families. It is critical to plan for a scenario in which the business facility is operational but employees are unable or unwilling to get there. One way to prepare is to develop a method to operate the critical components of the business from a remote location. Technology allows a laptop computer to function almost anywhere and software exists that will permit that laptop to emulate a system console. In addition, many business functions can be replicated on a laptop from the employees’ homes if the event is anticipated, planned for and tested in advance.

Tip 8 – Plan to work on location but with limited resources for two weeks.
Stockpile cash, fuel for a generator, water and supplies at the office. Plan to be without these items for, on average, two weeks.

There are things every manager or entrepreneur can do to prepare for the unexpected. These tips are the same for all types of hazards. However each emergency is unique and knowing the actions to take for each threat will impact the specific decisions and preparations made. So the final tip is to consider the specific threats to your business and then take deliberate steps to prepare specifically for those possibilities. By learning how to deal with specific threats, you are preparing for how to react in any emergency. That is when you know you are truly prepared.

Quote of the Week

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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