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ARE YOU READY?

Hurricane and wild fire seasons began last month, but earthquakes, tornadoes and floods can happen at any time. Therefore, it would be good to consider what is needed in the event of a disaster. One thing to remember: you may not have dealt with a disaster yet, but tomorrow is a new day. Are you prepared?

Being prepared for disasters means planning for loss of:

  •   Utilities

  •   Public Services

  •   Mobility-public transportation or street closed or trapped in a building

  •   Convenience

  •   Property-damage to structures or merchandise

The odd thing about disasters is that we have no idea when and where most will strike so basic preparations now can save a ton of headaches and confusion in the face of an emergency. The first step is to get to the safest place given the type of disaster you are facing and second step is to endure. Following the major occurrence is survival until life resumes as normal. So consider your business space and determine the safest place to wait out a disaster for you, your staff and any customers who become trapped in your store.

Initially, you may be facing a loss of utilities. That could just mean no electricity or it could mean no water, no phones, no lights, and no way to exit the building, if the security system relies on a computer-controlled electronic locking mechanism. People-even 2-year-old children-feel safer with light so working flashlights and extra batteries are a must. After there is light, check each person for injuries; use your well-equipped first aid box.  (You have one, don't you?)

Keep in mind that city services, such as police and fire rescue, will be stretched thin and you may have a long wait before help arrives. A detailed list of necessary survival items can be found at http://www.struck.us/CheckList/DisasterPlanChecklist.html. Generally these lists are prepared for home survival, but these apply to any building that may provide shelter. For your peace of mind, in addition to taking care of your business, have a plan in place for the safety of your family. That starts with a meeting place following a disaster. Knowing that everyone is heading to the same location as quickly as possible, will help you relax and think clearly.

Since you plan to return to work as quickly as possible, other items of high importance are: a fully backed-up computer system and copies of all legal documents. I found a useful site that suggested making digital copies of all legal documents as well as your personal identifying documents and commit these to a secured flash drive. Keep an additional copy in your safety deposit box along with the originals.  Keep in mind that a strong tornado can remove file cabinets and scatter the contents across a large area, so a vault is the safest place.

For the business owner, documents should include (but are not limited to): emergency phone numbers, proof of your identity (driver's license copy), contact information for each employee and vendor, all financial account numbers and locations, a copy of the incorporation or partnership papers, a copy of your lease or deed of trust, a full system back up that can restore your day-to-day operations or cloud storage services, insurance policies-both health and business-with contact information and proof of assets with a list and pictures. Phone numbers should include utility cutoff requests, both emergency and non-emergency, private ambulance, and security if available at your location as well as non-emergency numbers for fire and police as the 911 system will be overloaded during a disaster.

Other items to have on hand include:  

A disposable camera to take pictures of immediate area after disaster effects but before restoration and clean up work begins, especially for Insurance purposes

Tools necessary for shutting down utilities quickly-wrench or pliers for water, knowledge of master switch for circuit breakers

Keep in mind that water may not be available from the faucet, so have bottled water available. It's also a good idea to have blankets or towels on hand

Fire extinguishers-a minimum of two are recommended

Codes and operations for emergency exit doors-some doors lock electronically and cannot be opened from inside the building without knowledge for a system override which will not work without electricity.

The cheapest, easiest-to-obtain disaster help is you. You, the owner, need to set an example of being prepared (to care for those in your store and for the continuity of the business) with computer back ups, written directions, a phone list in plastic (it should include the address of your physical location just in case your nerves are frazzled-you may be able to read the address but not remember it) and a basic first aid kit. If you have a first aid kit, good for you! Check it now and make sure the items in it have not expired and that there are gauze and bandages still there. This may also be a good time to check your fire extinguisher to make sure it was serviced recently. Preparations now will help you remain calm and have a calming effect on others trapped with you.

This is one time to not rely on your memory. Write out the plan. Check with local police and firefighters; they will help you with some of the unknowns and give you good advice for keeping everyone safe. It makes their jobs easier should a disaster strike.

Check with your insurance provider at least every other year to confirm you have the best coverage you can afford for your store. You will, of course cover your merchandise inventory, fixtures and business equipment but you should also check on business interruption or income protection insurance. Following a disaster it is difficult to have sufficient funds to re-open a business without business interruption insurance.

Forty percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster and another 25 percent fail within one year according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Similar statistics from the United States Small Business Administration indicate that over 90 percent of businesses fail within two years after being struck by a disaster.  Take the necessary steps now to protect your future. Most disasters strike without warning so prepare for survival today for you, your employees, your customers and your business.

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