After losing electricity—and the ability to run my home office—for a week after Hurricane Irene in 2011, I waited in a long line at Home Depot to buy a $500 generator. The next year, during Hurricane Sandy, the generator kept the lights, my computer, and the cell phone up and running during another weeklong blackout, but my Internet service was out. I have no way to file stories or get paid without the internet, so I spent three days accessing Wi-Fi from my laptop parked in my car outside the EMS office in my town. Now I have discovered how to convert my phone into a wireless modem with a mobile hotspot service.
This month marked the peak of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which lasts through November and, according to NOAA, is still on track to be “above-normal” with a 70 percent chance for 13-19 named storms.
With my generator and Wi-Fi hotspot, I think my home office is ready for another storm. But according to FEMA, “Research on personal preparedness indicates that individuals who believe they are prepared for disasters often are not as prepared as they think.” (No need to tell that to the many Atlantic coast businesses that have yet to recover from Sandy.)
Will your business be ready this year? We scoured the web for sources of useful information for business owners. Here are some of the best offering advice right now during National Preparedness Month.
“An organization can experience a significant competitive disadvantage if they have not made plans to mitigate loss and down-time during a hazardous event,” according to FEMA. The federal agency offers a Business Protection Toolkit describing its “PS-Prep” guidelines to help the private sector ready for disasters. The kit includes a self-audit with 9 questions including, “Do you know which assets are most vulnerable to a disaster?”
According to FEMA, “Survivors of disasters typically wait up to 72 hours for help to arrive. This makes it even more imperative that entities prepare to be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours.” At FEMA’s ready.gov website, business owners can find step by step instructions for planning for emergencies, building a preparedness kit, and helping the community prepare.
The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, operated by NOAA, lists the essentials of a “ready weather nation.”
- Bookmark weather.gov to stay informed on severe weather.
- Learn about Wireless Emergency Alerts that can be sent to your phone during an emergency.
- Get practical tips on preparing for disaster at ready.gov.
- Prepare a disaster supply kit with at least three days of food and water.
- Share your preparedness story on Facebook so that friends and family will know what you’ll do in case of disaster.
- Create a Family Emergency Plan, so that your family knows how to communicate during an emergency.
- Obtain a NOAA Weather Radio.
- Tell the world you’re prepared on Twitter using hashtag #NATLPREP.
- Get involved with your local American Red Cross Chapter or train with a Community Emergency Response Team.
SBA and SCORE
According to the Small Business Administration, 40 percent of small businesses that close due to a disaster never reopen. SBA offers a Hurricane Preparedness Checklist, and its partner site PrepareMyBusiness.org tells how to test your company’s readiness for disaster. They recommend annual full-scale testing for a wide range of critical functions including gas, electricity, water, facilities, staffing, technology, and telecommunications “to ensure that your business will not only survive but thrive in any unexpected situation.”
SCORE offers a webinar workshop for small businesses on “Building Disaster Resiliency”; a nine-page document, “How Planning for Disaster Can Save Your Business,” prepared by SCORE with Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, explaining the implications for some businesses of losing regulated data; and a power-point presentation showing how SBA loans can help disaster-impacted businesses.
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety offers a free Open For Business-EZ Toolkit, which is a “streamlined business continuity program that gives business owners tools to better understand the risks they face; plan for how to contact key suppliers, vendors, and employees; understand how to access data; and identify where to go for help after a disaster.”
On its blog, cloud-based business phone services provider Easy Office Phone offers tips for safeguarding communication systems when a natural disaster strikes. Those include ensuring that your phone service and key documents are virtualized on the cloud; implementing a virtual private network in case employees need to work remotely; and implementing an emergency contact call tree for your staff.
“In the event of a disaster, business owners have even more to worry about than most people,” says Adam Simpson, the company CEO. “They have to take care of themselves and their families like everyone else, but they’re also responsible for ensuring their staff will be safe and their business will stay as close to 100% operational as possible.”
Also this month, the Disaster Recovery Journal published an article by Larry Lang, the CEO of Quorum, a “one-click backup and recovery” solutions provider, suggesting “3 Ways Small Businesses Can Be Prepared” when it comes to protecting company data. He recommends testing recovery systems, implementing backup systems for every device and machine, and “knowing what errors could occur in technical systems—whether in a power outage or hard drive failure.”
Lang’s last words are, “In today’s world, if Mother Nature messes with your business and you can’t get back up and running, you have no one to blame but yourself. Know your risks, plan ahead, and always be prepared.” Good advice.