When a hurricane or a flood threatens your business, you have more to worry about than your personal safety. The safety of your employees, goods, and your very business also becomes paramount. Flood preparedness is something most small business owners don’t take the time to think about, but it is crucial if you want your business to survive the next natural disaster.
Disaster plans are also useful in man-made crises. Dealing with a water main break in your business is quite similar to handling a flood. Preparing for one helps you prepare for the other.
If you haven’t considered this important subject, we’d like to share with you seven areas to consider that can help you prepare your business for floods and water damage.
Create a Plan
The first thing you need is to create a plan that will ensure the safety of your employees, your building, your cash-on-hand, and any important documentation for your business (e.g. insurance paperwork). These must all be present in order to keep your business running after a disaster. Additionally, you need a method of communicating with your customers to let them know the state of your business and when you will reopen. This plan must be available to managers at your location and practiced regularly. That way, your business will be prepared when the time comes.
Helping your employees prepare is very similar to the standard procedures any individual would do in an emergency. Your employees should have the gear necessary at work to hear any evacuation instructions and know the escape routes if they are called to do so. If they are ordered to shelter in place, they will need enough food, water, and other essential gear to ride out the situation. Special plans should be made for any employees that must evacuate due to medical conditions regardless of the situation, e.g. diabetics. Consider giving some employees CPR or first aid training. Employees should also have a way to check in with each other so that you can confirm everyone made it through the disaster.
Depending on the property manager, there may not be much you can do to protect your structure. But if you are able to make improvements, here are some things you can do to protect your building during a flood.
- Ensure that your roof-top structures, signs, and any portable vehicles or trailers are braced and secured.
- Make sure all safety gear works, including fire extinguishers and generators. Flooding can cause electricity to do strange things. Know where the shutoffs for your utilities are. It’s a good idea to shut off any gas lines as soon as you know there is a warning.
- If you do have employees shelter in place, have them check for vulnerable areas so they can either deal with it or document it for a later insurance claim.
- If you are computer-dependent, move as much gear as you can to the top floor. At the very least, move your UPS systems. Server rooms have their own disaster recovery needs. If you have one, consult with an IT disaster specialist to create a plan.
- Move any vulnerable inventory to the highest point in your building. If you don’t have multiple floors, consider having sandbags on hand to block the most vulnerable entrances.
- Have procedures for after the flooding for salvage and repairs. Keep a list of contractors in your emergency planning kit to call once the flood has passed. If you don’t own your building, keep the contact information for the property manager.
While cash may be the last thing on your mind during a disaster, it’s actually quite important. You’ll need to be to pay flood repair specialists for your building as soon as possible after a disaster. You also need to have enough cash to cover payroll expenses, and potentially pay for food, water, or medical supplies for any employees stuck due to the disaster. Don’t let your employees fend for themselves! If necessary, empower one of the employees that stayed in place to make purchasing decisions on your behalf.
Every business has vital paperwork. Insurance policies, business licenses, articles of incorporation, and other fundamental business documents should be kept in a safe place, but should also be accessible after an emergency. You’ll need that information to start filing claims and hiring contractors. Without that paperwork, there’s no way to prove your status. Also, you should examine your insurance paperwork at least once a year to make sure that it still covers what you need. Remember, not all business insurance automatically covers floods!
As part of your disaster plan, you need to have a method of communicating with other people with an interest in your business. Your clients, customers, contractors, and suppliers must be kept in the loop about the status of your business. It’s good professionalism and it shows that you are on top of the situation. Give them an honest status about what is going on and what you are doing to get your business back in order. They will appreciate the heads-up.
Finally, you must practice your flood preparation plan. It does no good to leave it gathering dust in a drawer until the time comes. Your business must be ready. Practice it at least twice a year and review it once a year. This will help you find holes in your preparation. Information that might have been correct a year ago may now be out of date. Keep your plan updated!
If you cover these seven domains, your business will be up and running as soon as possible after a major disaster. Don’t neglect to plan!