As a glance at any day’s headlines will show you, disaster can strike anytime, anywhere. Every small business should plan for disaster. For retailers, however, disaster planning has additional urgency, because you have to worry not only about your employees, but also about your customers. The last thing you want is for a customer to be hurt (or worse) in your store because you weren’t prepared.
Creating a Retail Disaster Recovery Plan
Protect your business and your customers by following these steps to a retail disaster recovery plan.
Step 1: Assess possible risks.
Some risks are more likely to hit than others. If you’re in California, for instance, you need to be prepared for earthquakes; if you’re in Florida, you should be more concerned with hurricanes. Stores located in shopping centers, entertainment complexes or downtown areas should also consider the possibility of active shooter or even terrorist events. Then there are more “everyday” disasters like a power outage. Sit down and think through what could happen to your store. Then use the FEMA risk assessment table to prioritize what to plan for.
Step 2: Imagine the outcomes.
If the risks on your list occurred, what would happen to your store—both short-term and long-term? For example, an earthquake might break all your inventory, damage fixtures and injure employees and customers in the short term. In the long term, it could cause structural problems to the shopping center so even if your store could function, you’re forced to stay closed while authorities inspect and repair the property. Ready.gov has information about what might happen and how to handle it in various situations, such as flood or earthquake.
Step 3: Identify your most important business functions.
What are the most critical retail functions to keep running after a disaster? You probably want to be able to take customer payments, secure their financial data, manage inventory and sell products. You might need to do this from an alternate location or focus on the e-commerce side of your retail business for a while.
Step 4: Create a plan for protecting your people.
Your store might be located in a shopping center, mall or other place with a property manager. This company will have some type of disaster response plan. Find out what the overall plan is. And determine who is in charge of disaster response. Then create your own store plan to supplement the larger plan.
Your first goal in protecting people is to get them out of the store or shelter in the store, depending on the emergency. Make sure employees know the approved emergency evacuation routes and where to meet outside, or where to shelter inside if there is an active shooter. The Red Cross has training materials, videos and drills businesses can use to prepare for a wide variety of emergency situations, including active shooter situations. Create an emergency kit you can use if people are trapped at the store by a flood or blizzard.
Step 5: Create a plan to protect your data.
Now’s the time to scan and save critical paper documents like insurance policies, supplier contact information and financial information. Store them in the cloud but also on a hard drive both at home and in the store in case you can’t get online in a disaster. Learn more about disaster recovery for your data.
Step 6: Create a property preparedness plan.
Once you know the likely disasters that might affect your store, you can be prepared to protect your physical location if you get advance warning. Practice plans for shutting off gas and electricity, securing fragile inventory or boarding up store windows.
Step 7: Consider how you’ll communicate.
When disaster strikes, you and your employees might be in the store or at home. Develop a list of everyone’s contact information and keep it at home and at the store (both digitally and on paper). Decide which employees will be in charge in a disaster if you aren’t there, and how they’ll communicate with customers to calm and assist them. If there are other stores near yours, such as in a mall, exchange contact info with the owners so you can help each other out. PrepareMyBusiness.org has a checklist you can use to create your crisis communications plan.
Step 8: Prepare financial resources.
Be sure your retail store has adequate insurance to cover you against disaster. Most standard business policies won’t cover disasters such as floods; you’ll need separate coverage. Business interruption insurance helps replace lost income if you can’t reopen right away after a disaster. You may also want to take out a business line of credit (you don’t have to use it) just to have some ready capital at hand. Getting approved for disaster assistance loans from FEMA can take months, and you may need money to pay employees or make repairs in the meantime.