Elsa is approaching: Here are steps small businesses need to take before this year’s storms arrive

Tropical Storm Elsa, which already has done damage in Florida, is expected to impact parts of New Jersey this week — and should serve as reminder of the impact the storm season can have.

That’s why the U.S. Small Business Administration is encouraging everyone to take the necessary actions to prepare themselves, their families and their businesses for potential emergencies.

Following the past several years of historic disaster activity — there were more than 30 named storms in the Atlantic last year — it is more important than ever for entrepreneurs to know their risk and financially prepare for the unexpected. Damage from a hurricane can be costly for small businesses and can pose hazards for you and your employees. Fortunately, there are ways you can fortify your business against a hurricane to minimize losses and reduce risks for workers.

The SBA offers a guide to help you consider how a hurricane might impact your operations and determine how you can prepare before one ever strikes. Below are a few main points:

Ways for small businesses to prepare before a hurricane

  • Put a system in place to back up critical business data: Your data should be backed up regularly and should be accessible off-site, making cloud data solutions ideal options;
  • Ensure your insurance includes relevant protections for hurricanes: According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, standard insurance policies do not cover flooding, including storm surge flooding, but flood insurance is available for business owners through the National Flood Insurance Program;
  • Develop an emergency communications plan. Make sure you have a plan in place for how you will communicate with key stakeholders — including employees, customers and suppliers — during and after a hurricane. As a part of your plan, keep an up-to-date list of these stakeholders’ contact information accessible off-site;
  • Make sure your disaster kit is fully stocked: In case you or employees are ever on-site at your business during a weather disaster, you should have a disaster kit with critical supplies such as water, food, masks, a flashlight, a first aid kit and more.

FEMA even offers a self-assessment to assist entrepreneurs identify safety and business continuity risks their ventures may face in the event of a hurricane, via their hurricane preparedness toolkit. This toolkit also walks you through how to address these risks.

How to protect your business after a storm is announced

  • Take precautions to ensure that items outdoors will not blow away or cause damage: Remove all loose debris and anchor or relocate all nonessential equipment to a safe indoor location;
  • Install windstorm shutters or plywood over windows and doors: Doing so will help prevent interior damage to your building;
  • Disconnect the main electrical feeds to the facility: This will help prevent a potential fire caused by short‐circuiting of damaged equipment. Similarly, shut off natural gas supply to minimize fire loss;
  • Collect and secure critical business and personal documents: Items such as financial, insurance and medical records are often needed to start a quick recovery. Gathering them before an emergency will give you and your family extra peace of mind;
  • Get ahead of post-storm recovery efforts: Have cash on hand for post-storm needs, such as buying food and supplies. Additionally, fill fuel tanks of generators, fire pumps and all company‐owned vehicles.

If an official evacuation order is in place during a hurricane, no employees should stay behind. However, if you are on-site at your business during the storm, remain in a place that has been identified as safe from wind and flood.

Wait until the storm has passed and local officials declare your area safe before entering your business to secure the site and survey damage. Start any needed repairs as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

If your business is in a federally declared disaster area, you may qualify for SBA disaster assistance.

Check here to see if a disaster has been declared in your area and apply for a disaster loan. SBA resource partners such as Small Business Development Centers, SCORE counselors, Women’s Business Centers, Veteran Business Outreach Centers and others are available to help you apply for disaster loans and walk you through the steps of rebuilding your business.

You can get free preparedness advice and guidance on how to recover from your local SBA resource partner here.

The SBA is committed to helping you overcome any obstacle. We are here to help you prepare your business for hurricanes and other disasters. Visit SBA.gov/Disaster to learn more.

Bernard Paprocki is the SBA’s acting regional administrator; Al Titone is the SBA New Jersey district director.