Plan Now for the Disaster That Will Hit Your Business

Disaster can strike a business in a multitude of ways. Businesses located near the coast from Texas to Maine are highly susceptible to hurricane damage. Fires and explosions can devastate buildings regardless of where they’re located. A building need not be the target of a terrorist attack to feel its effects, as many business owners discovered after the September 11 attacks. After a catastrophic event, evaluating the damage to the facilities quickly and accurately is essential for both insurance recovery purposes and for getting back into operation as soon as possible.

The business must do much of the important work before the disaster occurs. Identifying the facilities and equipment at risk is the first step. For a small business with one or two locations, this may be obvious; for a larger business with operations in many states and localities, the question may be more complex. Some locations may be in earthquake-prone areas, while others may be relatively safe from natural disasters. Such businesses must evaluate the worst-case scenario for any one event and plan around that.

Businesses must also address the question of who will do the evaluating. After a disaster, some members of the group may be injured or otherwise unable to reach the scene because of the severity of the damage or law enforcement restrictions. Therefore, the list should include several names with multiple people able to fill each role. The business should also have a written communications plan for reaching members of the group, including all of their phone numbers (both land lines and cellular), e-mail addresses, and each person’s emergency contact information.

The more information a business has about its property after a loss, the better. Therefore, it should assemble multiple copies of documents such as architectural drawings, appraisals, inspection reports, maintenance records, and others. The business should store documents in several locations and media so that backups exist should one set be destroyed. Members of the disaster recovery team should survey each location, identifying special features, key processes, characteristics that increase the building’s vulnerability to a particular threat, and equipment that will be difficult to replace.

It is often helpful to have members of the local police and fire departments tour the building and meet with personnel to discuss disaster planning. They may identify weaknesses in the plan or deficiencies in the building that the disaster recovery group missed. Also, the more familiar they are with the building before a loss, the better able they will be to respond after it.

After a disaster occurs, the disaster team coordinator should take steps to contact each member of the group and arrange for inspection of the facility at the soonest possible moment. The group may not be able to enter the building immediately due to safety concerns or orders from law enforcement. As soon as the group can inspect, they should identify emergency measures necessary to protect the facility from further damage, assess the extent of the damage, identify areas that are unsafe to enter, and evaluate the condition of the areas where critical processes occur. They should use the information developed before the loss to assist in their evaluation.

After the inspection, the group should prepare reports on each damaged facility. Local authorities may require the business to file these; in addition, government bodies that assist with disaster recovery and insurance companies may need the information.

Business owners should ask their insurance agents for resources to help with disaster preparation. Many insurance companies have loss control departments that can offer valuable assistance, as well. Government agencies such as the federal Small Business Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Web sites such as have plenty of information on this topic. To a large extent, a business owner has control over whether the business will survive a disaster. With some careful planning, the business will survive it and thrive.

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