Preparing Your Business to Survive Disaster

You’ve heard the statistics and read the media stories about how a major disaster can wreak havoc on a business, particularly a small business. But it’s not all doom and gloom. With a well-thought-out business continuity and emergency preparedness plans you can help minimize the disruption to your business both during and after a major disaster.

Attitudes Towards Risk

Earlier this year, IBC commissioned a consumer poll to gauge Canadians’ views on the likelihood of an earthquake and their level of preparedness. Our research, which focused on consumers in Canada’s most active seismic zones – British Columbia and the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City corridor – found that people are not prepared for an earthquake. Not only are they unprepared, they don`t believe an earthquake is likely – at least not for 50 years. Although the results were better for BC, the majority of people simply haven’t taken the precautions necessary to protect themselves. And while this survey reflects consumer attitudes about a specific risk – earthquake – we all know that many small businesses haven’t put enough time into business continuity and disaster recovery plans in general. While you can never be truly prepared, there are steps small businesses can take to minimize its risks and disruption to operations.

Prepare and Practice

Take some time to analyze the possible scenarios or disasters that would impact your business. A disaster could be anything from a severe storm, to a wildfire, earthquake, flood or theft. How would you respond? What are the essentials you need to protect your employees and remain operational? This exercise requires a deep dive into the resources you need to have in place – and experience tells us that keeping your business operational, post-disaster, takes more resources than you`d expect. Experience also tells us to plan for the worst case scenario, and then some.

Look at your business with a critical eye on what could happen for each potential risk your business faces. Speak with your insurance representative to ensure that you have the right coverage in place. Your business needs are unique, and it’s important to understand what protection you require — before you need it.

Your Emergency Plan

What you will do if disaster strikes during the work day? How will you keep your employees safe? Map an evacuation route and meeting place in the event of a fire or a building closure. Think about how you and your employees will communicate with family or friends in the event that telecommunications and infrastructure are affected.

Work with your employees to create an emergency preparedness plan and perform annual mock drills. Make sure that everyone can access the plan, understands his or her role and can execute the plan without you, if necessary. There is no point in having a plan if no one knows about it.Update the plan appropriately – this should be a living document. Do some research – there are lots of examples of what an emergency preparedness plan should look like.

How Will You Keep Your Business Operational Post-Event?

One of the biggest challenges a small business owner can face is remaining operational after a disaster. The ability to resume operations quickly following a disaster can make or break your business. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan for business continuity – every business is different – here are some key components:

  • Understand how your suppliers will be impacted. How will they deliver their products or services to you and vice versa?
  • Back up critical data and keep copies off-site, either in a remote location or on an offsite server.
  • How will you access cash during a crisis? In the aftermath of an earthquake or other disaster, you may need cash on hand in case banks and infrastructure aren’t operational. While we don’t advocate keeping large amounts of cash on hand, you do need to consider having access to enough cash to get you through a few days.
  • Where will you operate if your premises are damaged and unsafe? Consider a back-up location to use in an emergency.
  • Consider how you will communicate with your employees, customers and business partners when disaster strikes. Ensure that you have employees’ home phone numbers or personal email addresses, and that they know that this is how you will contact them during an emergency. Have a plan that addresses how you will communicate with customers to let them know what to expect.
  • Make sure you have the appropriate insurance in place. Research shows that people don’t understand what their insurance policy covers and doesn’t cover, so be sure to ask questions. Your insurance representative can be an invaluable resource, so tap into his or her extensive knowledge when assessing your risks and the role insurance can play in mitigating them.

Disasters happen, but they need not derail your business. Creating and regularly revisiting robust business continuity and emergency preparedness plans can help reduce your recovery time and get your business up and running quickly post-disaster.