A natural disaster can strike at any time, particularly during the winter when storms, flooding, blizzards and high winds are unavoidable. For small businesses hit by a natural disaster, the impact can be irreversibly damaging. It is vital small business owners act quickly following a natural disaster to protect employees, provide continuity and repair property or infrastructure.
There are measures small businesses can take in the wake of a natural disaster to help minimize the impact and damage. Take a look at what you should do after a natural disaster strikes your business.
Implement Your Disaster Plan
In its natural disaster recovery guide, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advises businesses to implement their recovery plan as soon as a disaster strikes. Implementing the plan will ensure the correct policies and procedures are carried out when a small business is faced with a natural disaster.
Consider Moving to a Backup Location
The damage to the business’s premises and infrastructure should be assessed without delay. If the damage compromises the safety of employees or prevents continuity of business operations, the business should move to a backup location.
Call FEMA or SBA Immediately
In its guide to Disaster Assistance Programs, the Small Business Administration (SBA) advises that if immediate assistance is required, small businesses should call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or the SBA in its local community. FEMA can be reached at 1-800-621-3362 and SBA’s Disaster Assistance team at 1-800-659-2955.
Provide Employees with Support and Assistance
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes the importance of providing employees with support and assistance. This can be in the immediate wake of a disaster by informing the local medical services or in the longer term for employees who may be shaken up and disturbed by the event and require some counselling to help get over the trauma.
Put a Communications Strategy into Place
Communication is vital in the case of a natural disaster causing damage and destruction to a business. A communications strategy should be put in place quickly, which means important facts, information and advice are fed to staff, suppliers, clients and customers and, if need be, the media, to ensure those who should be informed are kept up to date.
Cultivate Partnerships with the Local Community
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also recommends that small businesses cultivate partnerships and relations with the local community, including other businesses, local government agencies, and non-profits, which may be able to collectively advise, support, and help one another.
Document All Damage
In the wake of a disaster, all damage should be clearly documented and safely recorded. Part of a comprehensive disaster plan should include who is going to identify and record the damage, so this vital task can be carried out without hesitation or delay.
Take Photos of the Damage
When documenting the damage, it is a good idea to take photos of the premises or even a video, as such visual evidence can be crucial when making insurance claims.
File Insurance Claims
The quicker insurance claims are filed the better. Businesses need to get in touch with their insurance company as soon as possible and inform them of the situation and any damages that occurred. The sooner insurance claims are made, the quicker the business will receive a payout, which can be vital in helping it recover some of the financial costs the natural disaster may have caused.
Inform Lenders About the Situation
Small businesses should also get in touch with their lenders or other financial institutions and let them know of the emergency situation. Many lenders will work with businesses, possibly deferring payments and fees until they are back up and running.
Use Any Reserves Saved for the Unexpected
Sensible businesses will have a reserve saved for emergency situations like a natural disaster. Now’s the time to use such reserves to take care of vital cash flow, such as paying employee wages or for repairs until insurance claims come through to help keep the small business running.
Take Time to Recuperate
While a business needs to be operating as quickly as possible following a natural disaster, it is important to remember that workers, managers, and bosses are only human and will need time to recuperate from the disruption and anguish.
Ensure employees are mentally and physically prepared to return to work following a disaster as going back to work too early is likely to result in an unproductive workforce and low morale.
Allow Flexible Working or a Change of Scenery
Having a change of scenery can help those affected by a work-based natural disaster get over the ordeal. Even if your premises are ready to be worked in again, allowing staff to work at home or from other locations could help them feel more mentally prepared to return to work.
Having cloud-based systems and remote-working technology set up can mean the business could operate even if the premises are not ready or the staff does not feel emotionally ready to return to the facility where the disaster struck.
Take Out a Low-Interest Disaster Loan
If the business is really strapped for cash in the wake of a natural disaster, you could consider taking out a low-interest disaster loan. The SBA has two loan programs to help business victims of a natural disaster stay on their feet.
Get an Extension on Tax Filing Dates
For businesses located within areas where disasters have been declared by the federal government, it is possible to get an extension of your tax filing deadlines. Some extensions can be as long as up to five years.
When it comes to natural disasters, small businesses can never be over prepared. You can learn more about how to prepare your business and what actions to take in the wake of a natural disaster in this disaster preparedness guide and this 21-Point Checklist for Preparing for Natural Disasters.