ORLANDO, Fla. -- The small business that suffers damage from a disaster, such as Hurricane Wilma, has a greater chance of returning to pre-disaster operating levels if it prepares in advance. For that reason, business owners should take time now to plan ahead for a disaster, according to officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"A disaster-ready business will be able to recover faster and with less financial loss," said Scott R. Morris, FEMA's director of Long-Term Recovery in Florida. "A quickly recovered business is good for the viability of the local economy and enables employees to return to work as soon as possible."
Though each situation is unique, any organization can be better prepared if it plans carefully, puts emergency procedures in place, and practices for emergencies of all kinds. Disaster preparation includes four critical steps:
- Reduce the vulnerability of the company's physical plant by implementing mitigation measures.
- Back up business data, such as sales records, customer lists and tax information, at an off-site location.
- Purchase adequate insurance coverage. Consider business interruption insurance, which would cover lost profits should the business be unable to operate, and flood insurance because standard business policies may not cover damages from flooding.
- Formulate a contingency plan to maintain operations if the company's location is heavily damaged or destroyed.
"Taking a proactive step towards business preparedness contributes to an expedited economic recovery that re-energizes the surrounding community," according to Craig Fugate, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "Because local businesses are the backbone of the economy, they are in a unique position to serve as the catalyst of recovery following a disaster."
Florida Companies Show Disaster Plans Help Communities and Employees
Publix has begun implementing an important part of its business recovery plan, and it shows how some actions taken by businesses to protect assets can also facilitate the recovery of the community. The Florida-based grocery chain has about one-third of its stores in hurricane-prone areas across the Gulf States and recently began a program to install generators in these stores.
Public relations director Maria Brous said that after the last two active hurricane seasons, when management was looking at its disaster planning, they asked the question, "How can we be better at getting back to business after a hurricane?" She explained that in the last hurricane season power outages played a major role in the losses the stores experienced. Although each store had a backup generator, it did not provide enough power to remain open for customers and run all the coolers and freezers to prevent food from spoiling and. In March, the company announced it is spending $100 million to purchase 500-watt generators to protect Publix stores in about 575 communities.
"It's good in a business sense and the right thing to do for the communities," Brous said.
Ruth's Chris Steak House, another company headquartered in Florida, places the company emergency plan and preparedness information on its intranet site so it is easily accessible to employees. The New Orleans-based company is now headquartered in Orlando. When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and Mississippi, the company learned the communication plan was one of the most important pieces of its disaster planning. Without phone lines, the management team was able to locate all but three of 370 employees in affected areas within a few days using text messaging. The company also learned in that catastrophic event to locate the call-in number ? where the company could exchange information with its employees ? away from its headquarters and out of hurricane...