Don’t Overlook Your Vulnerabilities: Prepare Your Facility for a Natural Disaster
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40 percent of small businesses never reopen after a disaster, and another 25 percent that do reopen fail within a year. Jim Redick, director of Emergency Preparedness and Response for Norfolk, Va. states, “Small businesses are a huge contributor to our economy so if they’re unable to rebound and provide goods and services on which we rely as a community, then obviously our recovery efforts are going to be curtailed.”
National Preparedness Month (NPM) is recognized each September to promote family and community disaster planning. This year’s theme is “Disasters Don’t Wait.” Wherever your facility is located, you could face a major disaster. Whether it’s a hurricane, ice storm, flood, or earthquake, planning ahead and taking steps to develop a disaster preparedness plan is key to crisis management.
A solid disaster plan starts when you create an emergency binder containing key documentation that might be needed to help reopen the site.The binder should be updated on a regular basis and safely stored in a secure area. It should contain the following contact information.
- Local fire, police, and emergency personnel
- Electricity, gas, sewer, and water
- General contractors, electricians, plumbers, roofers, glaziers, security technicians, and water extractors
- Temp agencies that can be hired for clean up
- Maintenance companies to help get the property up and running
- Building inspectors, permitting, and others needed to resume operation
- All tenants’ contact information
Include “before” photos of the facility, interior and exterior, parking area and the roof.
When disaster is threatening, get ready. There are some items that you’ll want to keep on hand for an emergency. They include a first aid kit, flashlights, batteries, metal sheeting, plywood and tarps. A generator is a good idea. You can keep office equipment running during an extended power outage. Your preparedness plan should include the following actions.
- Backup all computer data
- Board windows
- Raise computers and electrical equipment above ground
- Secure customer files (if not already in your computer system)
- Protect gate equipment and security components
- Check all emergency lighting, fire extinguishers and other equipment
- Clearly mark escape routes for every building
- Direct any staff and customers who happen to be onsite to a safe interior location
Customers Should be Aware of Coverage
Be sure that customers are clear on what is and is not covered by their tenant insurance. If they have a tenant protection plan as an additional safeguard to their belongings, do they understand the coverages? If their contents are insured through their homeowners or renters policy, they should contact their agent to proceed with the claims process.
Disaster recovery can be a tiring and frustrating process, but the businesses that successfully recover from a disaster are usually the ones that have a clear plan. The following guidelines can help to get you up and running.
Have a Clear Chain of Command
It’s critical that key decision-makers are in agreement as to what the message will be, when it will be released, and who will give it. Who will make statements to the press? Is there a format to be followed? Who will be responsible for additional public updates?
Check the Office
If you can work in the office, be sure that it’s safe for staff and customers. If not, set up a temporary work area in another location on the property.
Document with Photographs
Following any disaster or emergency situation, it’s critical to document the condition of the property. Even if damage isn’t obvious, photos may help in a questionable situation.
Secure the Facility
If necessary, use temporary fencing, lock the gate, and restrict access hours. Depending on the situation, you may want to secure all buildings with locks and metal sheeting or plywood to prevent looting.
Communicate with Tenants
Your customers will have questions. They’ll want to know what was damaged, how bad it is, and when they can access their units. Call or email all customers to inform them of the status of the property. If landlines are down, there should be an alternate way for them to contact you. A mobile phone number, the company’s regional office, or an email address should work. Using your social media pages is another way to spread the message. After initial contact, keep your customers informed with regular email updates. They should be made aware of access restrictions, building damage, repair timelines, and any other information that would help to ease their concerns about the condition of their belongings.
Make Safety a Priority
Do not let customers visit your site until all of you’ve taken photos, talked with your insurance company, and all buildings are designated safe. If a building is deemed unsafe after a collapse, check with a building inspector to determine whether you can stabilize it so that an insurance adjuster can verify the damage. Once your property has been declared safe, tenants, accompanied by a facility employee, can visit the site and document any damage to their unit.
Protect your small business by identifying the risks relevant to your location. Keep your plan of action updated. Preserve your equipment and business records by referencing this IRS guide on protecting your information before an emergency strikes. FEMA also offers an emergency preparedness checklist and toolkit.