Knowing how to prepare for a natural disaster has become more essential than ever. In light of recent hurricanes that impacted Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, small businesses should be prepared for situations that test their capacity to communicate with employees, customers, and vendors – and to minimize the negative impact on operations – so that they can effectively resume business in the aftermath of such an event.
Small business owners shouldn't take comfort that their companies are safe from catastrophes happening elsewhere. Too many enterprises have suffered damage because they failed to proactively design and implement a natural disaster policy to protect themselves and their staff.
Here are key action steps to help in the event of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, fire, earthquakes, or other devastating natural disaster:
Put together an inclement weather policy ASAP. An inclement weather policy should address office closures, how the policy affects employee pay, time, and reporting, and the means by which employees will be informed of an office closure.
Protect your most valuable assets. Any policy worth implementing should have employee protection at the top of its priority list. For employees, this includes planning for:
- Evacuating the workplace safely;
- Keeping safety resources in stock;
- Compiling up-to-date employee, customer, and supplier contact information; and
- Conducting annual or semi-annual "mock emergency drills" to test employee preparedness.
Also, be sure everyone receives an emergency organizational chart detailing who's in charge if the owner isn't present.
Ensure protection of business information. Data storage and backup are key for minimizing losses after a natural disaster. You can't depend on a computer in a non-functioning physical location. Instead, consider using a cloud-based data storage system that can reduce the time needed to get back up and running. Storing data in the cloud means your business can function from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection. This is equally important in terms of protecting sensitive data from cybercriminals.
Coordinate emergency planning with suppliers. Your supply chain may be particularly vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster. The Small Business Administration advises determining if your key suppliers have a recovery plan in place, and maintaining a contact list for important business contractors and vendors you plan to use in an emergency.
Know how you will communicate externally. As important as internal emergency communications are, your plans should also include a contingency policy for communicating with your customers. Options include:
- Assigning individual employees a list of customers to contact
- Posting updates on the company website and/or social media channels
- Establishing local media contacts (TV, radio, print, etc.) who you can reach out to during a crisis
It’s important for your customers to know if your business has to temporarily close during inclement weather, and when you plan to reopen. The more information they have, the more likely they will trust your judgment and resume business with you once the crisis has passed.
As noted, the effect of a disaster or extreme weather event on employees must be top priority. Your policy should clearly state how pay is handled when either the business is closed or when an employee cannot report to the office due to inclement weather. Companies should understand the regulations that impact their policies around payroll, and communicate that policy clearly to employees.
Payroll providers like Paychex have experience helping businesses learn how to prepare for emergencies. They can help bring a sense of calm during the chaos of a natural disaster, and give businesses confidence that an important and necessary part of your business will continue to operate while you deal with the issues at hand.