Creating a Disaster Plan for your Business

No matter how good you are as the caretaker of your small business, you will sometimes face circumstances beyond your control.  Occasionally, those circumstances can be disruptive, whether long-term or a brief period.

From devastating natural disasters to manmade catastrophes, you should be prepared for the unexpected and its aftermath.  According to the Insurance Institute for Home and Business Safety, 25 to 40 percent of small businesses forced to close because of a disaster never reopen.  However, businesses that have a disaster plan in place – and use it during and after disaster strikes – typically experience less damage, loss and downtime than businesses without a plan.

A written disaster plan is a must.  Consider the following to help keep your business operating and meeting your customers’ needs:

Creating a Team

First, you need to select the people who will form your contingency planning committee for how long it takes to put your plan together.

Employee Safety

Develop escape plans and external gathering areas, making sure each of your employees understands what the plan is before the emergency strikes.

Create a Company Roster

Create a list of all employees, including alternate ways that people can communicate with each other. Include all phone numbers and non-work email addresses.  Obviously, the more ways you have to keep in touch, the better.  Set up a formal phone tree that can be activated to get in touch with your employees quickly.

Mission Critical

This is your core plan and the critical portion of all contingencies.  Here you will identify the flow of each operational, financial and administrative system and process that is needed to run your business, and who will be responsible for bringing those systems “on-line.”

Inventory and Equipment

Document your inventory and equipment that is required to keep your business operable.  Maintain insurance policies, warranty information and manufacturer and service contact information with your disaster documentation.  Document the processes that help your business run, such as answering phones, tracking financing and distribution.  Also, consider your supplier information and how it will contact and deliver to you during a disaster.

Determine a Chain of Command.

You need to consider a clear chain of command and authority in case key members of your business simply couldn’t be contacted for a period of time.  If key personnel are missing, who’s in charge and who makes critical decisions?

Designate Disaster Authorities

Certain pre-chosen individuals should know the steps to take during the crisis, and how to reach all employees and other essential contacts (clients, customers, etc.).  Also, your employees should know who to take direction from in the chaos that frequently follows a disaster.

Work Space Alternatives

Think about what location alternatives you have if you couldn’t operate from your main space, such as a temporary location and employees working out of their homes.

Data Backup

It almost goes without saying, but you need your vital data – both print and electronic – backed up offsite.  Ideally, you should already be backing up all of your important data at a location that isn’t in the same vicinity.  Backup things like:  tax, payroll and accounting records as well as the customer and vendor data you’ve stored on your hard drive.  Use safe deposit boxes for important hard copies.

It’s easy to put off business disaster contingency planning, but taking the time to prepare a business contingency plan will deliver a huge payoff if business disaster strikes.
Thinking positive in itself is always a good thing, but it isn’t enough here.  You need solid disaster planning to avert or lessen a catastrophe and protect your business and employees… not to mention giving you a sense of security and peace of mind.

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