Tips to help your business prepare for natural disasters


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Businesses nationwide are recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Continuous supply chain delays, labor shortages and rising costs are some of the challenges businesses are trying to navigate. To compound these issues, businesses in our coastal state must prepare as they work to recover from a once-in-a-century public health crisis, as well as from an Atlantic hurricane June 1-Nov. 30.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center — a division of the National Weather Service — predicts above-average hurricane activity this year, making it the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane. NOAA predicts a 65% chance of a normal season, a 25% chance of a normal season, and a 10% chance of a normal season.

Estimates indicate that 40% of small businesses do not reopen following a disaster and 75% of businesses fail within three years of a natural disaster. When your business is underperforming, you may lose customers to your competitors forever. It is important to prepare an emergency management plan for these storms.

No one wants to consider these possibilities, but they remain as possible. However, with the help of advanced planning, businesses can be in an advantageous position and prepare to “weather” a natural disaster.

The New Jersey Business Action Center, part of the New Jersey Department of State, recommends several strategies to help small businesses survive:

  • Determine which records, files and materials are most important and back them up: These can include income tax forms, QuickBooks files, customer contact lists, strategy documents, and passwords. Save these files to the cloud using Dropbox, DocHub or Google Docs for free.
  • Keep office property safe; Raise computers above flood level and away from large windows; Move heavy and fragile items to lower shelves. Reliable equipment that can move or fall during a storm. Hire a cyber security professional to ensure your systems are secure and virus free. Protect your most important documents, credit card numbers, email messages and more by hiring a professional to set up a secure system.
  • Have a recovery plan: Have a clear plan if you or your business partners are incapacitated. List the types of emergencies that may occur in the community and adjust your plan accordingly. Make sure trusted employees have access to passwords, keys, alarm codes, phone forwarding and other essentials in an emergency. Consider your financial obligations during the outage, such as payroll and debt service, and make sure you have a system in place to pay bills electronically. Create 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.
  • Keep your insurance current: Review your insurance coverage with your agent or insurance center; In particular, check the status of your business interruption insurance. If a disaster occurs, you can file a business interruption insurance claim covering any lost income. For insurance and tax purposes, keep all necessary materials and equipment, including written and photographic materials, and store them in a safe deposit box if possible.
  • Consider installing an emergency generator: Power outages are common during emergencies and can last for several days. As a result, even businesses that have not suffered major losses due to disruption of normal operations or loss of perishable stocks can suffer losses. You can minimize these losses and speed up your recovery by preloading an emergency generator.
  • Identify the backup location: If the primary location is damaged or severely damaged, you should identify a backup location where employees can gather and customers can visit. This helps to ensure that customers are safe. Make sure your organization has the right equipment, including a working Wi-Fi router. Telecommunications equipment should be available in case employees leave their company premises unexpectedly.
  • Keep emergency supplies on hand: Sometimes, the most straightforward emergency plans are the most effective. Always have extra batteries in case of power outages and critical electronics must continue to operate. Important files should have a written backup in a safe and secure location, such as a safe or metal filing cabinet. Have an emergency supply kit that includes a battery-powered radio with access to 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.
  • Investigate Property: It is important to inspect your building for damage to ensure the safety of all employees upon your return. Restore electricity, gas, telephone and water and, if necessary, avoid further damage by making repairs to stabilize your office or facility. During the storm, make sure you are using safe, proper cleaning products/services, all appropriate safety equipment must be used, and if the job is too large or complex for a small team, rent equipment or hire contractors.
  • Make sure print/digital resources are accessible: Obtain timely, reliable information from community health officials, emergency management and/or other sources and make it available for staff/public viewing. Make sure your organization has access to inventory, including computer hardware and software.

Natural disasters cannot be prevented. However, as a business owner, you can take steps to minimize disruptions and minimize losses so that once the storm clears, you can return to your normal operations as quickly as possible. An effective disaster preparedness plan will ensure the safety of you and your employees in any unforeseen circumstances. For more emergency preparedness strategies and resources, check out our complete guide.

Melanie Willoughby is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Business Action Center.


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