Is Your Small Business Prepared for a Disaster?

Apr 29, 2013

The U.S. Chamber's Gerald McSwiggan, FedEx Express' Nan Malebranche, and American Red Cross' Thomas Henneghan discuss disaster preparedness during America's Small Business Summit.

Most small businesses are ill prepared for a disaster, yet there are simple, inexpensive steps they can take to mitigate the damage, according to experts who spoke at America's Small Business in Washington, D.C., on April 29. 

Seventy-one percent of 2,500 surveyed small businesses don't have a disaster preparedness plan, and 64% say they don't need one, according to Gerald McSwiggan, senior manager of Disaster Management at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center. That's troubling because 45% of small businesses that are hit by a disaster never reopen, and 25% of those that do fail after one year, McSwiggan says. 

McSwiggan says most small businesses typically think about inventory first after a disaster but advises them to focus on employees. "For most businesses, people are their most important asset," he says. "It's important that employees are prepared, their kids are prepared, and schools are prepared."

Nan Malebranche, managing director of FedEx Express' Big Apple District, agrees. Ahead of Hurricane Sandy, FedEx gave its employees such things as bottled water, socks, extension cords, and granola bars, and following the storm, the company's first action was to make sure their employees were accounted for. FedEx Express even gave some employees a $25 American Express card to help them through the difficult time. "Keep you employees at the forefront," Malebranche recommends.

Here are some additional disaster preparedness tips for your small business:

Store critical paperwork in waterproof file cabinets.

Have a backup plan so that you can get up and running shortly after a disaster. Thomas Henneghan, a manager at American Red Cross, cites as an example a partnership between two bakeries across town from each other in which one bakery impacted by a disaster is able to use the other bakery's facilities during the night.

Start small and build. For example, if you can't afford to purchase a power generator this year, invest in the infrastructure in your building so that when you do buy a generator, it's ready to work immediately.

Purchase a sufficient level of insurance.

Back up your company data on a hard drive. You won't be able to access your data in the cloud if the Internet is down.

Resources (American Red Cross) (Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety)

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