7 Ways to Prepare Your Business for Extreme Weather
Small business owners have a lot to juggle and one critical aspect is extreme weather preparation. A United States Federal Reserve small business survey found that 40% of small businesses do not reopen after experiencing a major disaster. As a small business owner, it is important to consider the different ways that a large disaster can hurt your business.
A continuity plan outlines the different measures you have in place to ensure that your business stays operating. Creating a continuity plan for your small business is a good safety blanket. Businesses need to consider all of the ways to prepare their business for extreme weather to protect their business, employees, and customers. Below is a list of different methods for doing so.
1. Protect Your Employees
Your business is not the only aspect at risk for extreme weather. First and foremost, you need to think about what you can do to protect your employees. The first step to this is assessing your risks. Different areas are more susceptible to different types of extreme weather. Analyze the extreme weather risks where your business is located. You can utilize the online National Risk Index for Natural Hazards (NRI) for better insight into the different types of extreme weather your business may be exposed to. Once you have an understanding of your risks, then you can better plan for the following:
- Creating an evacuation procedure: Your evacuation procedure should fluctuate depending on the type of extreme weather. Extreme weather can be frightening and stressful — be sure to write down your evacuation procedure and keep it in an accessible area;
- Establishing onsite and offsite meeting areas: You should determine both onsite and offsite meeting areas. If there was a building fire, you would want to evacuate the building. But if there was a tornado, you would want to get down into the basement or storm cellar. Consider creating a map of the building with arrows pointing where to go in case of each respective risk;
- Create a disaster supply kit: In some cases, staying in the business may be the safest option. Be sure to build or purchase a disaster supply kit that includes things like food, water, flashlights/batteries, maps, flares, and a first aid kit. Be sure to place this in a safe, accessible place.
2. Install Safety Systems to Protect Your Property
It is good to be prepared for any type of weather, but you should prioritize safety systems based on what you’re at risk for. Consider the following safety systems:
- Storm shutters: Storm shutters can be used to protect your windows from being broken by flying objects during high winds;
- Surge protectors: A surge protector helps protect your electronics from power surges that can occur during extreme weather;
- Generators/backup power supply: Extreme weather can often take down power poles leaving entire neighborhoods and cities without power. When you have a generator or some form of backup power supply, you can reduce potential downtime and make your business a viable place to wait out the storm;
- Storm cellar: When you have a storm cellar, you and your employees (and potentially customers) all have a place to hide out and wait out the storm in a more secured area;
- Secured tarps: If you store any of your inventory outdoors, you may want to get tarps to protect your inventory from the elements;
- Utilize building treatments and materials: There are treatments and materials like double pane glass, fire-retardant wood, and weather-resistant roofing to better equip your building to withstand weather and natural disasters.
3. Secure Important Documents
If you have boxes upon boxes of important business documents, or you rely heavily on digital data, you will want to be sure to backup your documents. Extreme weather may damage or destroy important documents entirely. Listed below are several options for securing important documents:
- Use a scanner and make digital copies;
- Utilize cloud storage;
- Make physical copies and store offsite.
4. Educate Your Employees On Safety Procedures
Spend time educating your employees on the different safety procedures that you have in place. This should be a new-hire requirement and you can also schedule recurring safety procedure meetings to keep employees prepared.
It can be a good idea to have drills to go through what an actual emergency would look like and what employees should do. Training videos are also another viable option for educating your employees. Consider getting your safety procedures in writing as well and supplying your employees with them.
5. Communication Is Key
If your workplace becomes unsafe, you want to be sure that you can communicate that with your staff and your customers. Sending out mass emails or mass texts can be a great way to send weather warnings, and having clearly labeled exits and other signage can help direct employees and customers if they are in the store when extreme weather strikes. It is a good idea to use a loudspeaker to issue instructions for your customers and staff to follow. Social media can also be a good tool for communicating. You can post weather warnings and store closure warnings.
In the case that a powerline is knocked down, try to communicate via text message. Text messages do not operate in the same way that phone calls do, so in a pinch, you are more likely to get ahold of someone with a text message than a phone call.
6. Review Your Company’s Insurance Policy
Be sure you have a good understanding of what your insurance policy covers and what it does not. All businesses need liability insurance and that will generally cover things like customers, staff, and property damage. Liability insurance doesn’t cover any operational losses and in some cases, you may need additional coverage for natural disaster protection.
For the least amount out of pocket, assess your risk for specific types of extreme weather and purchase additional coverage where you are most susceptible. You should consider getting business interruption insurance to protect against loss of income after a disaster.
7. Know What to Do After a Storm
Different storms cause different types and amounts of damage. After a natural disaster, there are certain things to consider before reopening. As soon as the storm clears, you will want to document everything for an insurance claim. During this time you’ll want to communicate with your staff, customers, and any stakeholders in your business. Once you have talked to your insurance company, you may need to use different restoration and repair services — for example:
- Water or mold remediation;
- Construction restoration;
- Fire and smoke restoration;
- Roof repairs;
- Flood restoration;
- Window repairs;
- Commercial cleaning restoration;
Be sure to keep all track of all of your restoration and repair expenses for insurance and tax purposes. If you are in a situation where you can’t afford to pay for out-of-pocket repairs, there are several organizations and sites designed to help small businesses with disaster relief — a few examples are:
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA);
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA);