You never know when disaster might strike, and if it happens to your business, it could undo everything you've worked hard for. Anything from a freak accident to a severe storm could close your once successful business for good if you're not well-prepared.
"FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] estimates that as many as 40 percent of businesses affected by disasters never reopen," said Curtis Peterson, vice president of operations at cloud communications platform RingCentral. "While extensive property damage may be the culprit in many cases, lack of proper planning for intangibles is also often at fault."
To make sure you're prepared for the worst, Peterson shared his tips for creating your business's disaster plan. Here are six things you need to do to weather any storm.
1. Have a solid communications plan. During an emergency situation, communication is key. You need to be able to tell your employees what's going on and how to handle it, so creating a plan in advance is important.
"The plan should identify several functional leads — individuals who make decisions and deploy the plan — along with specific communication channels and protocols," Peterson said. "A good plan outlines exactly when and how employees will be notified."
This could include having an 800-number for employees to call for instructions, Peterson said. You might also align your business with a local school district so that if your employees see that school is closed for weather-related reasons on the news, they don't have to come in, he added.
"Whatever means you choose, the platform itself must be resilient to outage, or have a backup plan," Peterson said.
2. Protect your assets. Even something as simple as a power outage could compromise the security of your building and your important data, Peterson noted. To avoid this, he advised creating a plan that doesn't rely on solutions located on-premise. [5 Steps to Prevent Data Loss When Disaster Hits ]
"Cloud services can help here by providing a reliable, survivable off-site solution to data access and security and communications continuity," Peterson said.
3. Know when to close or stay open. This goes beyond just making a spur of the moment decision. Peterson advised establishing a formula in advance.
Some situations may be no-brainers, like a widespread weather disaster or immediate local terrorist situation, in which the obvious decision is to close. However, if you plan in advance, you may be able to relocate.
"Decide which scenarios will warrant a closure and how you will respond to customers' needs during the downtime," Peterson said. "For a call center or any business with multiple locations, reroute calls to other locations to ensure customers aren't left hanging."
4. Have a plan for helping others. Even during a disaster, there's a chance for your business to thrive, or even help others in need, if you plan accordingly. While Peterson said you shouldn't take advantage of disaster victims by any means, a disaster can work in your favor in certain situations.
"For example, maybe your restaurant has been affected by a community-wide blackout, but you still have good access to ingredients [and] supplies, along with chefs and other staff who are willing to do what's needed to help your neighbors," Peterson said. "Setting up a mobile site in another facility can provide much-needed meals to residents who would otherwise struggle to feed their families under the circumstances."
Peterson also pointed out that disasters are important times for insurance companies. This is when customers need you the most, so if you have a plan in place and can handle even the toughest situations well, it will pay off.
"People will remember how you came to their aid in a tough situation," Peterson said.
5. Watch out for little things. Contrary to popular advice, Peterson said you should sweat the small stuff. Of course, it's important to plan for the worst, but even little things can spell disaster, Peterson noted.
Things like power outages, local school emergencies (in which your employees may need to rush to pick up their children) or ISP router failure can actually be devastating to a small business.
"Having a plan of action for these short-term molehills can keep them from turning into insurmountable mountains," Peterson said.
6. Practice your plan. Having a plan of action is an important first step, but practicing that plan is just as important. That way, you can make sure your employees are on the same page and that, in the event of an emergency, everything will run as smoothly as possible.
"Just like the fire drills you probably remember from elementary school, it takes practice to know what to do, especially in a stressful situation," Peterson said.
He also noted that practicing your disaster plan requires you to have the resources and technology in place to activate your plan on the fly without disrupting the entire business.
"If you've planned properly and thoroughly," Peterson said, "the plan should run smoothly and seamlessly both in practice and when it counts."
Originally published on Business News Daily