Many business owners have a tendency to think that disastrous events, like a hurricane, will never happen to them. But playing the waiting game with Mother Nature is a gamble your business cannot afford to take.
A hurricane can jeopardize the safety of your employees and also potentially close your business for weeks, if not permanently.
And although hurricane season typically lasts from June to November, a hurricane can strike whenever the conditions are right. It’s imperative to get your ducks in a row, as soon as possible. Do you have emergency equipment on site? Do your employees know what to do in the event of a hurricane? Do you have a phone tree or other communication plan in place?
Tips for developing an emergency preparedness plan
It can be overwhelming at first, but a carefully thought out and thorough emergency preparedness plan is the key to helping your business weather any storm. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Assess your risks and make a plan
Identify what risks your company would be susceptible to in the event of a hurricane and list their potential impact on operations. Are you in a flood zone? Will employees have difficulty getting to work? Will you have to temporarily relocate? Come up with a detailed plan of action to mitigate your vulnerabilities.
2. Review your insurance coverage
After you’ve completed a risk assessment, it’s a good time to review your company’s insurance coverage. Even if your policy protects you from hurricane damage, does it also account for other ensuing issues, such as flooding from heavy rain or fires from possible power surges? Consider inquiring about business interruption insurance with your agent as well.
3. Develop a communications plan
In the chaos that often accompanies an emergency, a solid communications plan can minimize panic and the spread of misinformation. Keep employee contact information readily available as a printed list. Update the list at least twice a year. Client and vendor information should also be kept handy in case you need to inform them of any closures and/or temporary relocation of your operations.
4. Protect your employees
While you want to keep your business open for as long as possible, you also have a responsibility (according to HIOSH and OSHA regulations) to keep your employees safe. After all, they are your company’s most important asset. Employees should have enough time to safely get home and be familiar with emergency protocols. Consider holding an emergency preparedness class or at the very least distribute hurricane safety checklists.
5. Review personnel policies
If you do have to temporarily close, will your employees still get paid for work missed? Will they have to use vacation or sick leave to cover their absence? Go over these issues with your HR representative and be sure to take into account FLSA and FMLA regulations. In the event of a major hurricane, you may even have to consider layoffs. Cross train key employees so they can take on critical responsibilities if need be.
6. Secure your computer equipment and data
Losing years worth of important company records would be devastating. Make sure any physical data backup, such as external drives, are in an alternate location (away from your computer or even your office) and preferably in a weatherproof safe. Cloud backups are another good option, but they rely on internet connection, which could be limited following a hurricane. Label and document your equipment so you can safely remove and then replace it with minimal downtime. Move equipment to high ground within your office to avoid flood or water issues. Install UPS backups for your equipment in addition to standard battery backups. This will help enable shutdown options or stay up and running when the power goes out and assist you in case a generator or battery module malfunctions. If you maintain onsite servers, install and maintain fire suppression systems specifically designed for your equipment. Your office may have sprinklers, but server rooms need sophisticated options like inert or synthetic gas to prevent fire but not damage your equipment.
7. Line up secondary vendors
Due to Hawaii’s size and location, it’s likely that a major hurricane will affect businesses statewide. If a core part of your operations relies on other local businesses, it’s crucial to identify secondary suppliers and vendors, preferably out of state. Secure estimates or contracts, and have details worked out now to minimize downtime and get your business back on its feet faster.
You can’t stop a hurricane from coming, but you can minimize its impact on your business. How quickly and efficiently you are able to recover in the wake of a disaster can make or break the long-term success of your business.
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.