Protecting your small business: How to stay strong through disasters and unexpected events

Sep 18, 2019, 10:36 AM by Denalli 

Most small businesses never recover from a disaster. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notes that as many as 60 percent are forced to close up shop after an unexpected event.

Small Business Owner

Disasters aren’t something you can just hope to avoid. They happen, and after the earthquake last November and the recent wildfires, every business should have a plan in place to deal with them. We want you to be prepared no matter what comes your way, so as part of National Disaster Preparedness Month, we’ve gathered some essential tips to help you get started:

Don’t overlook insurance

The importance of knowing exactly what is covered by the policy cannot be stressed enough. Too many times, business owners have paid their monthly bill thinking they were secure against whatever might come, only find out their insurance covers only a fraction of the repairs when disaster does strike.

Make sure you are fully covered. Basic property coverage won’t always do it. Consider the other costs you might incur-- lost revenue as a result of temporary closure, paychecks for employees, equipment damages--and seek out a policy that will cover them.

Outline a plan

If you wait until the emergency is already happening to come up with a plan, chances are you’re too late. Think through potential disasters and create clearly defined courses of action. In Alaska, these might include responses to disasters the region is at risk of--earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, especially heavy snowfall--and any other risks specific to your industry or location.

Make sure your staff is in on the plan. Inform all employees of evacuation routes and any safety precautions that are to be taken.  Leave the plan in a convenient location where it can be easily seen by all. Day to day operations requires teamwork, and handling an emergency will make it even more crucial that everybody is on the same page.

Another part of planning is thinking about how you’ll continue to function a week, month, or even year afterwards. You’ll want to resume business as usual as soon as you can, to reduce the hit your profits take. Consider these questions when drafting your plan:

  • How will you keep in contact with customers and employees?
  • If your physical location is temporarily or no longer usable, where will you work out of?
  • What tasks will employees be responsible for in an emergency?

Back up critical records and information

Losing key company information could deal one of the biggest long-term blows to your business. Too many owners make the mistake of keeping all their data in one place, like the hard drive on their office computer or keeping it on paper in a filing cabinet.  

This leaves businesses not only vulnerable to a larger-scale natural disaster, but also to every day events. If your main computer were to go out, or a smaller in-shop fire started, it could be just as catastrophic as a major disaster.

Customer lists, contact information for partners or suppliers, insurance papers, contracts, and anything else vital to your business should be backed up by keeping copies somewhere off-site. Even better, save it to the cloud so you can access it anywhere.

Know where to find help

Even if you already do have an emergency plan, it might not have occurred to you to learn about the places that can help you beyond your local government. Luckily, there are a variety of places to get help rebuilding your business in the face of a disaster.

  • DisasterAssistance.gov – This website helps you locate the nearest FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, access the latest information on local situations, and request assistance from many government agencies at once.
  • SBA – The Small Business Administration helps provide disaster relief and recovery resources in areas affected by the disaster. Their staff quickly coordinates a recovery effort at the location of the disaster after it happens. Contacting them could help you get assistance or a plan to save your business.
  • Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – The Alaska DHSEM not only educates on preparedness, but they also help with management when disaster strikes and provide aid to those who need it.

Though there are many resources available, you don’t want to be reliant on them. Relief resources are available to everybody, and their first priority is always saving lives. Your business won’t be at the top of their list. It’s crucial you still have a plan tailored to your business in place.

To decrease your reliance on aid, you should also consider having a line of credit available. There may be an instance where your insurance doesn’t cover everything, and you can’t afford to pay out of pocket for essential repairs. Going through the process of securing a loan isn’t something you’ll want to be doing when time is ticking, and every day your business isn’t running means lost profits. Setting up your credit beforehand could help you.

Keep it current

A plan doesn’t work if it’s not an accurate reflection of your situation. Your emergency plan should be reviewed and updated every few months. The people and focus of your business can change, so you’ll want to adapt things to ensure you are well prepared if something comes up.

Take the time to inform new employees of what would happen in an emergency and teach them the methods you would use for communication.

You worked hard to build your business, keep it protected

Building a business from scratch, or even running an existing one, takes a lot of effort. You put in long hours each week, sacrificing free time and sometimes sleep, and want to see your business grow.

At Denali, we believe in what you’re doing and want to give you every resource to succeed. Part of that means getting prepared. It also means playing an active role and supporting you through every step of the journey. 

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