Hurricane Harvey cost businesses in the Houston area up to $15 billion in lost productivity, with additional infrastructure damage as high as $10 billion, and as many as 500,000 cars and trucks were lost to flooding.

Hurricane Irma destroyed up to 70 percent of Florida's valuable citrus crop, costing farmers and the small businesses that support them. Total insured losses from Harvey and Irma could exceed $150 billion.

Hurricane Maria cost businesses in Puerto Rico at least $10 billion in lost productivity and $20 billion in damage--representing a full 30 percent of the island's gross domestic product (GDP). More than a month later, those businesses are still struggling to reopen amid continuing blackouts, gas shortages, and lack of fresh water.

Most recently, wildfires have ravaged Northern California, destroying 3,500 homes and businesses. And in all of these cases, the loss of human life far outweighs the cost of damaged property and lost economic activity.

The last few months have seen one disaster after another challenge U.S. business owners. Unfortunately, many were not prepared for the worst. According to a survey published last year by my company, Manta, 37 percent of small business owners said they would not be able to recover from a natural disaster like a severe storm or fire.

Could your business survive a natural disaster? If you don't know the answer, the time to find out is now--before you're faced with a devastating loss of property and income. These tips will help your small business prepare to survive the next emergency.

1. Develop a response plan in advance.

Preparation is the single most important key to successfully surviving a disaster. If you find yourself responding to an emergency that's already in progress, it may be too late.

Create a written plan that details your company's actions in case of possible natural disasters, and communicate it to all employees. Document evacuation routes and escape procedures. Post emergency phone numbers and clear instructions in accessible locations. Establish a plan for continuing to operate remotely during a shutdown by designating employees who can work from home. Your plans should be reviewed and reinforced with regular drills and preparedness meetings.

2. Review your insurance coverage.

Investing in the proper insurance coverage for your small business is one of the best ways to prepare for a natural disaster. In addition to coverage for your business property, insurance packages such as business interruption, loss of use, and extended coverage will help protect against closures or the interruption of your operations.

You should regularly review your insurance package to make sure you have enough coverage for your growing business and that you have the right kind of coverage. After every hurricane, we hear horror stories from property owners who were insured against wind damage but who were not covered for the flooding that followed.

3. Establish a communication plan.

Lost or damaged property can always be replaced. But losing loyal customers due to a temporary shutdown could be a much more devastating blow for many small businesses. Stay in touch with customers throughout the emergency by contacting them via phone, email or social media, and by post a closure notice outside your property if possible.

Your employees should also be aware of your communication plan so they can reach you, coworkers, vendors and clients during and after an emergency. Communication tasks should be assigned to specific staff members. As the owner, you should lead communication efforts by appointing a spokesperson, a client point-of-contact, and an employee responsible for contacting the insurance company.

4. Protect your company's data.

If your business processes any sort of electronic transactions or stores important customer information in a customer relationship management (CRM) or other database, backing up your data to a cloud-based platform is crucial. Natural disasters can wipe out more than trees and homes--they also have the power to destroy office systems, documents, and critical business records.

Regularly backing up files to a reliable hard drive can suffice, as long as you store a recent copy in a safe place off-site. Migrating business information to the cloud is a better option. That way your employees can access ongoing projects or important documents remotely, and your data will be backed-up to a server that's affected by the immediate weather conditions.

5. Identify critical tools and relationships.

Even when your business survives a natural disaster, you may still experience significant loss due to suppliers' inability to make deliveries. Small business owners should communicate their emergency procedures to key vendors and make sure everyone is kept informed during a disaster. In addition to having your insurance information in order, be aware of resources that could help speed your recovery, such as a disaster assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Maintaining strong relationships and clear communication with employees, vendors and customers provides small business owners with the support system they need to effectively navigate the recovery process. You may not be able to prevent the next fire, flood or hurricane that strikes your region, but with a thorough plan in place, you can at least minimize the damage and be prepared to reopen your business as quickly as possible.

Published on: Oct 30, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.