What next? 7 ways N.J. business owners can plan ahead for hurricane season

Up to 40% of small businesses never reopen after disaster — here’s what you can do to avoid that fate

By Don Newman, NJBAC
Trenton | Jun 25, 2020 at 11:21 am
Op-Ed

As the height of hurricane season approaches, is your business prepared for power outages, flooding, property damage, lost work time and more? The longer your business is not operating due to a natural disaster, the more likely you are to lose customers permanently to your competitors.

Reports are predicting an above-average hurricane season in 2020. Three tropical storms have already developed. If one of these storms nears the New Jersey coast, it could inflict lasting damage. In fact, up to 40% of small businesses never reopen after a disaster.

Jim Alcon
Don Newman of the New Jersey Business Action Center.

Emergency preparedness means being ready for all kinds of emergencies and possessing the capabilities to respond in times of crisis to save lives, property and to help the community return to normal after a disaster. As we emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns, no one wants to consider additional misfortune happening to a business, but with advance planning, you will be in a much better position to survive a natural disaster.

This holds true whether you are a large company or small, or whether you operate from a high-rise building or an industrial complex. It also remains true if you continue to operate remotely due to lingering COVID-19-related restrictions. No matter the setup, it is important for your business to have a comprehensive emergency management program.

The New Jersey Business Action Center has seven recommended strategies to help small businesses ride out the next big storm:

  • Stay informed: Hazardous weather impacts New Jersey residents on a regular basis, and most regions experience power outages, floods, property damage and other impacts in our daily lives. The first step to disaster preparedness is to stay informed, using credible websites to get information about various hazards.
  • House documents on the cloud, not your office computer: Most businesses keep onsite records and files that are essential to normal operations. To reduce your vulnerability, determine which records, files and materials are most important, and back them up. These may include income tax forms, QuickBooks files, customer contact lists, strategy documents and passwords. From there, save these files in the cloud using an affordable service like Dropbox, Google Docs or Box so you can access them from anywhere.
  • Keep office property secure: Raise computers above the flood level and move them away from large windows; move heavy and fragile objects to low shelves, and secure equipment that could move or fall during a heavy storm. In addition, hire a cybersecurity expert to make sure your systems are secure and virus-free. Protect your most important files by hiring an expert to set up a secure system well in advance.
  • Plan for business continuity: Establish a clear plan for decision-making if you or your business partners are incapacitated. Ensure passwords, as well as keys, alarm codes, phone forwarding, etc., are provided to trusted employees in the event of a disaster. Consider financial obligations you will have during interruption, such as payroll and debt service, and ensure a system is in place to pay bills electronically. Establish a social media presence for your business to communicate with your customers about your business’s status.
  • Make sure your insurance is current: Review your insurance coverage with an agent or your insurance center; specifically, check the status of your business’s interruption insurance. If disaster occurs, you can file a business interruption insurance claim detailing any lost income. For insurance and tax purposes, be sure to maintain written and photographic inventories of all important materials and equipment.
  • Identify a backup location: If the primary location of your business is destroyed or severely damaged, you should identify a backup destination where employees can congregate and clients can visit. This will help create a sense of normalcy and ensure clients that all is well. Backup locations could range from a local coffeeshop to a large basement with Wi-Fi access.
  • Don’t forget simple planning: Sometimes the simplest emergency plans are the most effective. Always have extra sets of batteries for when power goes out and critical electronics need to be kept running. Important files should have a written backup somewhere in a safe and secure location like a safe or metal filing cabinet. Have a disaster supply kit handy.

Disasters affect millions of people each year on a personal, business, local or national level. Although we can’t prevent natural disasters, business owners can take proactive measures to minimize disruption and reduce loss so you can return to normal operations as soon as possible. These precautions should also be top of mind in a business climate that is steadily recovering from an unprecedented shutdown. It is our goal at the NJBAC to ensure that all state businesses — both large and small — weather the storm (including COVID-19) this year.

Overall, the rule for successful disaster management at all levels is to increase awareness, develop actions plans and adhere to that strategic guidance. The right time to plan is not when the storm is already moving in.

Don Newman serves as manager of small business advocacy for the New Jersey Business Action Center. Operating under the leadership of Executive Director Melanie Willoughby, the New Jersey Business Action Center, housed within the New Jersey Department of State, is a business-first resource.

ROI-NJ Staff | editorial@roi-nj.com | @roinjnews