“Not having a plan in place for when unexpected events or disasters strike is one of the biggest mistakes we see small businesses make,” says Andrea Roebker, a regional communications director for the SBA. To create an emergency preparedness plan that reflects your business’s unique vulnerabilities and needs, consider these elements:
- Identify risks. These can include things like floods, fires, and natural disasters; human-caused hazards like accidents and workplace violence; and technology-related mishaps like failure or malfunction of systems, equipment, and software. If you have multiple locations, categorize the risk by geographic location. (Visit the SBA’s Emergency Preparedness page for more information.)
- Consider your customers.FEMA suggests including a sales/marketing representative on your emergency preparedness planning team. You'll need to have someone available to communicate your disaster plan to customers and keep them apprised of how your company is responding.
- Backup and redundancy. These are similar concepts but have some important differences. Backup refers to the creation of copies of important data that can be accessed in the wake of a catastrophic loss. Redundancy goes beyond data. It covers everything required to provide continuity of service should your primary systems be rendered unusable. That means maintaining duplicates of application software and critical equipment in separate, disparate locations. Cloud-based services make it easier than ever for any business to implement both strategies, offering flexibility, reduced costs, and faster recovery times.
- Communication is essential. “While many businesses prepare for risks, one of the most often overlooked aspects of response and recovery for an unexpected event is the importance of communication,” Roebker says. As part of your emergency preparedness plan, consider all the different audiences you will want to communicate with-;customers, employees, suppliers, the local community-;as well as the technologies (mobile phones, tablets) and channels (social media, websites) you will use to conduct that communication.
- Know where to go for assistance. Store copies of important documents such as insurance policies in an off-site location, along with contact information for critical resources (IT specialists, accountant, insurance agent, or banker). If your business interruption results from being in a declared disaster area, your first step should be to register with FEMA. This is required in order to be eligible for SBA disaster-assistance loans.
Having an emergency preparedness plan in place greatly improves your business’s chances of bouncing back from any unexpected event or disaster, but there’s one more important step you should take. “To avoid becoming part of the statistic of those that don’t recover, businesses should do regular test runs,” Roebker says. “It’s the best way to limit the effects of any disaster and recover sooner.”