Businesses nationwide are still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ongoing supply chain delays, labor shortages and inflation are just some of the challenges businesses are trying to navigate. To compound these issues, as businesses in our coastal state work to recover from a once-in-a-century public health crisis, they must also prepare for the Atlantic hurricane season from June 1-Nov. 30.
Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center — a division of the National Weather Service — are predicting above-average hurricane activity this year, which would make it the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season. NOAA predicts a 65% chance of an above-normal season, a 25% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.
Estimates indicate that 40% of small businesses never reopen following a disaster and 75% of businesses fail within three years after a natural disaster. The longer your business is not operating, the more likely you are to lose customers permanently to competitors. It is essential to be prepared with an emergency management plan for these storms.
No one wants to consider these misfortunes, but they remain possible. However, with the help of advanced planning, businesses will be in an advantageous position and set to “weather” a natural disaster.
- 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. Save these files on the cloud using Dropbox, DocHub or Google Docs, free to use.
- 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. Secure equipment that could move or fall during a heavy storm. Hire a cybersecurity expert to make sure your systems are secure and virus-free. Protect your most important documents, credit card numbers, email correspondence and more by hiring an expert to set up a secure system.
- Have a restoration plan in effect: Establish a clear plan if you or your business partners are incapacitated. List types of emergencies in the community that could occur and adjust your plan accordingly. Ensure trusted employees can access passwords, keys, alarm codes, phone forwarding and other essential items 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 (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter), and use social media tools to communicate with your customers about your business’ status.
- Keep insurance up to date: Review your insurance coverage with an agent or your insurance center; specifically, check your business’s interruption insurance status. You can file a business interruption insurance claim detailing any lost income if a disaster occurs. For insurance and tax purposes, maintain written and photographic inventories of all essential materials and equipment and store them in a safety deposit box if possible.
- Consider installing an emergency generator: Power outages are commonplace during disasters and may last several days. As a result, even businesses that are not severely damaged can suffer losses because of the interruption of normal operations or the loss of perishable stock. You can reduce these losses and speed up recovery by installing an emergency generator in advance.
- Identify a backup location: If the primary location is destroyed or severely damaged, you should identify a backup location where employees can congregate and clients can visit. This will help ensure that clients are well. Ensure your organization has the proper equipment, including a functioning Wi-Fi router. Telecommuting tools should be available if employees must leave their company location unexpectedly.
- Keep disaster supplies on hand: Sometimes, the most straightforward emergency plans are the most effective. Always have extra batteries for when the power goes out and critical electronics must 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 that includes a battery-powered radio to access National Weather Service information, a battery-powered electronic device charger, a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, flashlights, extra batteries, waterproof plastic bags and more.
- Get property inspected: It’s important to check your building for damage to ensure safety for all employees upon return. Restore electric, gas, telephone and water, and avoid additional damage by making repairs to stabilize your office or facility, if necessary. In the wake of the storm, for cleanup, ensure that you are using safe, proper cleaning products/services, that all appropriate safety equipment is used, and rent equipment or hire contractors if the job is too large or complicated for a small team.
- Ensure print/digital resources are accessible: Find up-to-date, reliable information from community public health officials, emergency management and/or other sources, and make them accessible for staff/public viewing. Ensure your organization has access to inventory lists, including computer hardware and software.
Natural disasters cannot be averted. But, as a business owner, you can take steps to minimize disruption and reduce loss so that, once the storm clears, you can return to normal operations as soon as possible. An effective disaster preparedness plan will ensure that you and your employees are safe in any unforeseen circumstance. For more emergency preparedness strategies and resources, view our complete guide.
Melanie Willoughby is the executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center.