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Small business owners should prepare for disasters

Feb. 15, 2011 at 3:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2011 at 8:15 p.m.


NEED MORE HELP?Contact the University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center, 3402 N. Ben Wilson St., at 361-575-8944, or visit www.sbdc.uhv.edu.

Does your business have a disaster preparedness plan?

Does it address the potential impact of both natural disasters like hurricanes, or man-made threats like computer viruses or terrorist attacks or a fire?

If not, you're not alone. Many businesses overlook disaster preparedness plans, or simply assume it can't happen to them.

The best way to reduce the disruptions caused by catastrophes is to be aware of the potential impact long before it happens. By the time you can see a serious problem develop, it's probably too late to protect your business.

Develop your plan

Well-organized disaster preparedness plans should provide employee safety measures, protection of your facilities and equipment, and a means to get back to business as soon as possible after a disaster strikes.

In addition to planning, you may also want to consider a few important business purchases. Listed below are several products and services that can help better prepare you for potential disasters:

An electric generator helps your business maintain operations when power goes out. It allows things like refrigeration or security systems to stay running, preventing thousands of dollars in losses. And special safety features such as automatic shutdown will help prevent injuries as well as damage to your generator.

Storage containers allow you to stock up on emergency supplies. Storage containers are both fireproof and weather-proof, and provide instant storage capacity for a variety of emergency items, food and water supplies, and tools if disaster strikes. You can also store backup copies of documents or even excess inventory to fulfill orders after a disaster hits.

Remote backup is an essential part of disaster preparedness plan. A secure off-site location back up helps you store your critical computer files, protects your data from viruses or worms, as well as power outages or physical damage to your servers because of severe weather or fire. If your data gets corrupted or lost, you can simply access a clean copy of the most recent version once your systems are running.

Commercial safes are simple solutions to protect documents, media or even petty cash. These safes are both fireproof and waterproof and will keep important information and valuables protected if you ever need to quickly evacuate your office because of a disaster.

Disaster preparedness tips

Make sure to take care of your family first. You need to know they are safe before you focus on your business. Keep enough supplies in your home to meet the needs of you and your family for at least three days. Build an emergency supply kit to take with you in an evacuation with basics that include the following: water, food, battery-powered radio and flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid supplies, change of clothing, blanket or sleeping bag, wrench or pliers, duct tape, trash bags, map, a manual can opener for canned food and special items, such as medication, for infants and the elderly.

Make sure employees know where all emergency exits are in the building and plan meeting areas for potential evacuations. Conduct evacuation drills regularly to make sure everyone has a plan for leaving the building safely and quickly.

Maintain good relationships with other local businesses. If your office is badly damaged by a disaster, they may be able to provide you with temporary office space while you rebuild.

Always have a list of emergency phone numbers on hand with multiple hospitals, poison control centers and ambulance companies. Keep a copy in your wallet, or program into your cell phone.

Make sure you have one or two employees trained in CPR and first aid so you have someone to rely on until professional help arrives.

Why is this so important?

The items above are just a few key points for consideration to protect you and your business when disaster strikes. The goal of being prepared before a crisis helps all critical daily operations continue as normal as possible until you rebuild your business - in turn, generating the needed cash flow to stay open and serve your customers.

Keep in mind natural disasters and emergencies may happen at any time and give little to no warning. Planning for disasters in advance and keeping those plans updated will help ensure the survival of your business.

Don't wait until it's too late.

Kacey Lindemann Butler is a Gonzales-based senior business advisor for the University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center. Contact her at Lindemannbutlerk@uhv.edu.

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