Winsett: Businesses should plan for disaster

Winsett: Businesses should plan for disaster

March 23rd, 2012 by Jim Winsett in Business Around the Region

Q: The recent tornado reminds me to update my business disaster plan. What advice does the BBB have for setting up a business disaster plan?

A: The recent storms remind us of the urgency and need to have a disaster plan in place.

Reacting to a natural disaster or emergency not only means ensuring the immediate safety of employees, but also planning how the business will continue to function in the aftermath.

Even if your business is not located in an area that is a likely target for a natural or man-made disaster, you need to be prepared for the unexpected with a comprehensive business continuation plan. Better Business Bureau advises business owners to develop a plan of action should their business face a disaster.

If you do not have a plan in place, creating a disaster plan now will be a strategic action item for your business.

According to the Insurance Institute for Home and Business Safety, one in four small businesses

forced to close because of a disaster never reopens.

Businesses that have a business continuity plan in place - and use it during and after disaster strikes - typically experience less damage, loss and downtime than businesses without a plan.

If your business does not have an emergency plan, a natural disaster like our tornado damage a couple of weeks ago can turn into a business catastrophe. But a solid emergency plan can give you a lot of peace of mind and a greater sense of security moving forward.

After you have made plans to ensure the safety of your employees, BBB offers the following advice to help keep your business operating and meeting your customers' needs in the wake of a disaster:

• Do not be caught off guard. Consider the different types of disasters. Fire, flood, tornadoes and other disasters could displace your business for a week, a month or longer.

• Know your surroundings. Determine alternate locations for your business to operate if you are displaced from your current building.

This could mean enabling employees to work from home or finding an alternate location for your office or store.

• Prepare your staff. Identify essential staff who are core to the operations of the business and keep a list of their phone numbers (home, work, pager, cell) and email addresses that can be accessed by employees from several locations (home, Internet, etc.).

• Communicate. Devise an emergency communications plan that outlines how your business will communicate with employees, customers, vendors and other key external contacts in the days following a disaster.

Contact vendors and suppliers to confirm their emergency response plan procedures. Be prepared to use alternate vendors for essential supplies and equipment. Keep your backup equipment in good working condition.

• Have an up-to-date inventory of your assets. Review your insurance policies to ensure that you have adequate coverage for items you cannot afford to lose. A standard policy may not cover business interruption losses.

• Store your documents safely and efficiently. Keep duplicates of personnel, payroll, payables and receivables and other essential records at an off-site location. Regularly make backup copies of important computer files.

• Establish a succession of management for the company. Determine who will manage the company if key leaders are unavailable.

• Today is the time to take action. Your business disaster plan is critical to your success. Take the necessary time to accomplish this in the next few days, it will be a relief to have it complete.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@