Preparing for the worst

In light of recent international disasters, businesses are honing their crisis plans

Tawnie Nelson
Guest Columnist
Recent events provide an important reminder that business owners must be prepared in the event of a business interruption or emergency. The best time to respond to a disaster is before it happens.

When you’re planning for emergencies, assume anything can happen to you and your business. Play "devil’s advocate" to help think through every situation. Include your employees in the planning – they will have valuable information to share.

Also make sure your employees are aware of all procedures and know what to do in an emergency situation. In the event that you are unavailable, do you have a clear chain of command?

Develop an emergency response plan and contact list. If you had to leave in a hurry, would you have a single, easily located document that contained critical business information? Is a copy of the information stored in a secure site away from your business?

The information would vary according to your individual business needs. Examples include key contact information for your employees and emergency services, password/security documentation and critical business information such as banking account numbers. You’ll also need contact information for your banker and attorney, and documentation of applicable insurance.

If you haven’t yet developed a disaster plan for your business, here are some factors to consider including:

Disaster Planning Toolkit. Identify the hazards/emergencies you might face. Seek out expert advice on what specific actions you can implement to make your business more disaster-resistant.

Facilities. What do you do if your buildings and/or equipment are unavailable? Can you work without certain equipment? Would you be able to operate your business from a remote location, assuming the current physical location was damaged or closed? Do you have emergency procedures in place for safe removal of personnel, key documents and technology?

Operations. Are you ready for technology interruptions or prolonged power outages?

Critical Information. Where are your key documents stored? Do you have appropriate back-ups in safe, offsite storage in the event something happens to the originals?

Insurance. Do you have appropriate levels of insurance for different types of disasters? Remember, there may be different types of policies required for earthquakes, fires and flooding. Do you have enough cash flow to pay creditors, employees and your own needs during a prolonged business interruption?

Additional Support is Available. Talk to your financial services provider about policies that can allow payment vacations or payment "breaks" while the business owner is dealing with disaster. These can include credit protection, emergency business lines or the option to skip several payments without penalty.

If you are in a declared disaster area and have suffered disaster-related damage, you might be eligible for federal disaster assistance. Business owners can apply directly for assistance with the Small Business Administration (visit www.sba.gov or call 800-659-2955).

Other government organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also have many programs and resources to help business owners recover from disasters. More information can be obtained by contacting FEMA at 800-621-3362 or www.fema.gov.

Getting back to business as quickly as possible after a disaster pays dividends beyond your company’s bottom line. When companies get back on track, they provide essential jobs, products and services that can benefit an entire region.

So start preparing now. You can’t prevent disaster from striking, but a good plan can help you weather the storm.

Tawnie Nelson manages Wells Fargo Business Banking in the Vancouver metro area. She can be reached at 360-759-4820 or Tawnie.Nelson@wellsfargo.com.

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