How Should a Small Business Prepare for a Hurricane

emergency check list for disaster planningSmall Business Savvy Storm Tips: There are many ways a small business (or a non-profit) can prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster. On the East Coast of the US, we are currently preparing for Hurricane Irene. Last Monday there were two US earthquakes in areas not known for frequent quakes. I had a computer crash earlier in September; luckily I had a second computer, a fairly recent back up, and had emailed several recent documents to myself. Those three issues started me thinking – Are most small business owners and solopreneurs prepared for a natural disaster? This is a slightly different type of post than my usual small business, PR, social media, strategy post, I hope you find it useful.

The East Coast is Not Used to Storms Like Hurricane Irene:

My brother, who lives in Louisiana, called. He’s been through several Hurricanes and pointed out a surprising point to me – that the storm surge from Hurricane Irene may come up the Delaware River (which I am less than two miles from) and it may flood smaller streams that feed into the Delaware. There is one such stream at the end of my street, luckily down hill from me. He sent me the link to NOAA’s Interactive Storm Surge Map:

When I ran the map, I set it for category 2 hurricane at the top of the chart. Try it for the expected category when it may hit you, then zoom in on your area and look at the color coding at the bottom to see the depth of the storm surge – turquoise is 6-10′. To my eye, an awful lot of Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington, DE; and New Jersey are in that area, (and those are the place just near to me – parts of Maryland New York are at risk as well) – it’s not just the coast like we usually see when east coast hurricanes often turn out to sea.

Things a Small Business Owner Can Do Today in the Face of a Natural Disaster

I am not an emergency management expert, but there are several simple actions you can take to secure your business against the storm, there are resources listed at the bottom of this post for more information. At minimum, do two sets of computer back ups of your important files and store one in office, in a high area in a waterproof container, take the other set home with you and keep it safe and dry. Perhaps set up an online back up like Carbonite; better late than never. At bare minimum, email yourself the most recent files you are working on or might want in the next week, using a web-based email system like Gmail that you can access form any computer. Also put those files on a thumb or flash drive or external drive of some sort, and seal it in a ziplock bag.Make copies of your last several years of taxes. This PDF list by the Small Business Administration has the best list of things to consider – even at the last minute like today:

Flooding Risk from Storm Surge Along Coast or Coming Up Inland Rivers

If your business looks like it is at risk for flooding, you may need to take more serious measures. Sand bags around significant places were water might slip in. Move important files out of basement areas or out of the bottom of the file cabinets. Unplug computers (and phones if you can) before you leave for the weekend – and get your electronic cables up off of the floor, or move items to higher floors, if available. I know someone who had a basement office that got just a few inches of water, but it got into some of his electronics and surge protectors. Drape computers in trash bags to protect from incidental moisture. What is the minimum equipment you need to continue your business in the short run, and can you make that happen? See the link to Irene storm surge listed above.

Wind Damage From Natural Disasters to Businesses

In case of wind damage, also consider moving important files, computers and copiers away from windows, especially in tall buildings, as the winds at the 25th floor may be much higher than at ground level, and sky scraper windows have been broken in other urban hurricanes, according to the Weather Channel. If your business or home is along the shore – you may need to be boarding up windows and piling up sandbags. Follow the guidelines for your state or county government, and please head evacuation notices.

Small Business Resources for Before and After a Natural Disaster

For larger issues of dealing with a natural disaster in your business, or in your larger business, check this Wall Street Journal Online article and the FEMA business and other links below – they will get you thinking about supply chains, personnel, alternate locations and more:

What are your tips for helping a business survive a disaster?

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