Disaster Plan Checklist for Small Business Owners

Industry experts have estimated that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of small businesses do not resume operations after a major disaster. As a successful business owner, one of your responsibilities is preparing for a natural disaster or man-made emergency.

While more immediate issues might be vying for your time, emergency preparedness can be the difference between losing your company and getting back on your feet. So use this checklist to determine if you’re ready in the face of the unthinkable.

Here are a few ways you can plan for tomorrow’s emergency.

Identify the Risks in Your Area

Is your business location prone to hurricanes, floods, or tornadoes? You can use the risk assessment tool at the Insurance Institute for Business for Home Safety home page to identify your specific threats.

Conduct a Needs Assessment

Figure out what you would need to do to maintain or restore operations in the face of each of the risks you have identified.

Then, identify what computers, machinery, and other equipment are essential to maintaining operations in the face of an emergency. Make plans to budget for items you don’t already have, and come up with a plan to protect your physical assets.

Plan for the Safety of Your Personnel

Develop escape plans and rally points just like you would for your family. Make sure each of your employees understands what the plan is before the emergency strikes.

Designate a Contact Person

If you do business on a regional, national, or international basis designating someone to make contact with your clients and vendors is particularly important. Those customers and vendors outside your area may not know that your business has been impacted by a disaster. Communicate with them immediately, letting them know your situation. Provide as much detail as possible about the status of their orders or expected interruptions in service.

Review Your Insurance Coverage

Don’t just assume that you’ll be covered. Lots of insurance policies, for example, do not provide coverage for flood damage. You may need to purchase additional insurance for these and other emergencies. You might want to consider purchasing business interruption insurance to cover lost income after a business closure.

Use Offsite Backup Storage

Ideally, you will already be backing up all of your important data at a location that is a minimum of 100 miles from your operation.

What should you backup? Things like tax, payroll and accounting records as well as the customer and vendor data you may have stored on your hard drive. Use safe deposit boxes for important hard copies.

Establish a Strategy for Communication

Make sure you keep phone numbers and email addresses for your suppliers, customers, utility providers, and other emergency management agencies in an accessible location for use following a disaster.

Designate a spokesperson for your small business to assure your network that you are working toward recovery and calm any fears about the failure of your business.

Remember that it’s always better to have plan, especially a well-tested plan. So be sure to allow time for disaster plan testing, training and ongoing review.

For additional help developing a disaster plan, you can visit the U.S. Small Business Administration online.

Image credit: kkiser

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Emily Suess
Emily Suess is a full-time technical marketing writer in the software industry and a part-time freelance copywriter. To learn more about marketing your small business online, check out her copywriting blog, Say It With Me.

12 comments

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  1. You’ve done a nice job with this article. I’m especially interested in backing up all of the information from my business, and your reminder will get me moving. Thanks again for the tips!

  2. Emily timely post. Having just lost my blog and the database to a host account I realised how important it is to have regular backups of my intellectual property to cloud storage solutions like DropBox or BackUpElf and to be prepared for when your business is out of action.

    As a blogger my whole world lives online to have it taken away from me for 36 hours was a real eye opener about how crucial it is to have a backup plan!

    • So sorry that you had to go through that, Natalie! What a hassle. I’m a fan of Dropbox for file-sharing, but I hadn’t thought of using it as a backup resource. Great idea!

  3. Pingback: Disaster Plan Testing, Training and Follow Up | Small Business Bonfire

  4. One of the last disaster recovery / business continuity elements we think about is how communication is going to continue during the disaster. Owners / IT departments go to extensive lengths to make sure production servers and data is redundant and co-located, as they should, but neglect having a plan in place for how to keep the lines of incoming communication open in the event of a disaster.

    Like you touch on in the last paragraph, managing customer perception is critical. You want your “disaster” to be as painless as possible for your customer and to mitigate any fears about the health and well-being of your business. That’s hard to do if they can’t reach you and are instead getting busy signals or number-not-in-service errors. Opens the door for them to think the worst. Proactive outreach is good, but so too is taking the precaution to have your calls re-routed to a temporary off-site location or to cell phones in an emergency.

  5. Pingback: 5 Ways to Prepare Your Small Business for a Disaster | Small Business Bonfire

  6. Pingback: Small Business Disaster Recovery After Super Strom Sandy

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