We’re all familiar with the hurricanes that strike the southeastern US, the tornadoes that can devastate Midwest communities and the earthquakes that periodically rock California. Those events understandably make headlines. But there is no region in our country that is immune from the effects of natural disasters. 

Even a smaller-scale event that goes unnoticed outside of its damage zone can severely impact a small business. Consequently, every company should take steps to prepare for conditions and scenarios that can adversely affect them. Needless to say, simply hoping that your business will be spared is not an effective business strategy.  

So, before the storm clouds gather, the nearby forest ignites or the ground begins shaking, you should take action to make your business resilient and prepare it to respond in the face of unexpected difficulties.  

Natural Disaster Preparedness: More Important Now Than Ever

If you watch the news, you probably have noticed phrases like “100-year storm” and “once-in-a-generation event” being used to describe severe weather and other natural disasters with increased frequency. Even allowing for cases where these definitions are being stretched somewhat, it’s clear that communities around the US are facing natural disasters more often today than ever before. 

As a result, it’s prudent for business owners to take a fresh look at their preparedness for significant business disruptions. Those who do can help reduce the consequences of catastrophic events and improve their ability to recover quickly and fully from them.

7 Steps To Protect Your Business From Natural Disasters

Since there is no way to know when a disaster will strike, it’s best for your business if you act as though tomorrow will be the day. Because, in fact, it certainly could be! Your employees, customers or clients, and others who rely on you will benefit—now or later—from you taking the steps below as soon as possible.  

  1. Prioritize protecting your people. Although every business owner understands their obligation to ensure the safety of their employees, this point is worth making. It’s critical to know how you will protect your workers in the event of a natural disaster. Whether that means “sheltering in place” or sending them home in advance of a crisis that can be anticipated, you should be ready to make the necessary decision. 
  2. Be ready to protect your property. What can you do to minimize damage to your building, equipment, etc., in the face of various types of disasters? If materials are needed—like plywood for protecting windows in the path of a hurricane—do you have them? When a crisis occurs, being able to take action quickly is essential. 
  3. Stay informed about the weather, etc. Some natural disasters, like earthquakes, strike without warning. Others, such as severe storms or wildfires, may move into your area over a period of days or hours. The sooner you can take action to brace for an event, the more successful you’ll be in minimizing the impact. 
  4. Purchase appropriate small business insurance policies. There are many types of insurance coverage you can maintain for your business to address different hazards. For instance, a business owners policy or BOP (also called property & liability insurance) typically covers wind damage to a building you own and business and personal property in your building. However, it likely doesn’t cover damage from flooding or tidal action. Flood insurance, which is typically provided by the National Flood Insurance Program, is needed to cover those types of risks. A BOP can also provide “business interruption” or “business continuity” protection—meaning it can pay for expenses incurred while your business isn’t functioning or is operating out of an alternate location as a result of covered damage. 
  5. Make an action plan. Considering how your business will respond during and after a natural disaster is crucial. However, it’s not enough. You must document your plans so that everyone involved in preparation and recovery activities is on the same page. This document should address everything from protecting your people and facilities to securing physical and electronic files to remote working procedures if applicable.   
  6. Update your customers and others about operational changes. If a natural disaster is likely to disrupt or has disrupted your business, be sure to keep your customers or clients, suppliers, business partners, etc., informed about your situation. For example, if you will be forced to operate from a different location temporarily, deliveries and product returns might need to be sent to that address. Or if your fulfillment of purchases or responses to support requests will be delayed, people will be much more forgiving if they understand the circumstances.  
  7. Identify disaster recovery resources in advance. Who can you turn to for structural repairs, assistance with damaged electronics, etc.? It’s important to establish those relationships before a crisis for a few reasons. For example, the stress of what you’re going through may make it hard to focus on finding service providers. In addition, if there’s widespread damage in your area, you want to get repair appointments scheduled promptly, as there may be many companies trying to do the same. Keep in mind that recovery resources may include financial and other assistance from state and federal agencies, and knowing who to contact can expedite that relief. One great resource is www.ready.gov

Prepare Today. Sleep Better Tonight.

No business owner wants to elevate their stress level by worrying about the potential consequences of a natural disaster. Eliminate that concern by taking appropriate precautions as soon as possible. Then, you can return your focus to your company’s operations, knowing that you’ve done all you can to prepare for a crisis and that your business will “cross that bridge” should you come to it. 

About Rakesh Gupta 

Rakesh Gupta is chief operating officer at biBERK, part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company. biBERK specializes in commercial insurance for small businesses. In his role, Gupta focuses on simplifying the insurance buying experience using technology and process innovations that make it easier for small business owners to get the coverage they need.