As we approach the end of a summer that’s seen much of British Columbia affected by wildfires, small business owners have been forced to confront whether they’re prepared to survive an emergency.
It’s only natural to shy away from confronting the worst-case scenario, but as a small business owner you’ve likely invested a huge amount of time, energy, and capital into your operation. You may also have employees relying on you for income and stability, so having a plan in place for natural disasters and emergencies should be considered a high priority.
Depending on where your business is based, you may be at risk from different types of disaster. The Government of British Columbia lists the following 10 hazards as the ones most likely to affect businesses in the province:
- Severe Weather
- Power Outages
- Hazardous Material Spills
- Disease Outbreaks
PreparedBC has also created a useful interactive map listing a detailed, regional breakdown of the risks your business will likely face.
Addressing the Risks
If your business has a physical, bricks and mortar location, you can undertake a “hazard hunt” to scout potential issues that are quick and easy to fix. Identify and secure items that could fall during an earthquake, keep important documents and equipment away from the floor in case of flooding, and ensure you have off-site backups of important computer files. In the aftermath of a disaster you may face a period without power. Investing in a back-up power source will allow you to keep the lights on.
A little prep in advance will allow you to respond quickly and effectively during a time of crisis. Assess which systems, equipment, and people are necessary for the business to continue. Which ones can suffer being disrupted? Creating an emergency hierarchy of needs puts you on efficient footing to remain operational no matter what. PreparedBC features an Emergency Plan Template that will help you address these issues, and solve a number of the most pressing concerns a business faces:
- What will you do if your commercial building, plant, or store isn’t accessible?
- Can you work around certain automatic functions by using manual processes?
- Have you created alternative arrangements with suppliers, shippers, and other businesses you rely on regularly?
- How will back-up equipment be utilized if the power goes out?
- Is there a contingency plan in place to handle payroll admin?
Though it seems a common-sense move, make sure to develop a contact list of critical, emergency numbers and create hard copies of it. Include people like employees, partners, suppliers, city/provincial personnel, utility companies, and landlords/tenants.
Your responsibility to prepare also extends to any staff you have. Your preparedness plan should clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of your staff in a time of crisis. Share your plan with staff and keep hard copies of it in easily accessible locations.
Practical Steps to Take
Build an Emergency Kit
Emergency Kits come in different shapes and sizes, and the Government of British Columbia recommends you include four litres of water per person, per day. Consider the average number of people at your place of work on a given day and plan accordingly. Other items to include:
- Non-perishable food
- A wind-up flashlight
- Wind-up radio
- Any medications your staff (or you) need
- Cell phone chargers
- A First-Aid kit
Business Interruption Insurance
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, “Business Interruption coverage allows a business owner to collect the income he or she would have expected to generate were it not for the unexpected event”.
Business Interruption coverage comes in two flavours; named perils or all risk. Named perils only covers you for the specific perils listed in your policy, while all risk covers against losses caused by any risk not specifically excluded from the policy. Speak to your accountant or financial advisor to see if Business Interruption Insurance is appropriate for your company.
Know How to Turn off Utilities
Where are your electrical panel, gas, and water shut-off valves? Do you know how to turn them off? It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important you and your staff know where these utilities are located and how to ensure they’re turned off safely.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once you’re confident you’ve put a comprehensive plan in place, validate it by putting it to the test. Run a drill along with your staff, then meet afterward to discuss what worked and what could be improved upon. Each year, British Columbia holds an event called the Great British Columbia ShakeOut where members of the public are invited to prepare for earthquakes. It offers a great opportunity to time your drills with fellow companies, working out a joint plan.