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According to that great weather forecaster, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, the United States can look forward to an early spring. Spring . . .the season of warmer temperatures and blooming flowers and budding trees. It is also the season of strong winds, rain, thunderstorms, floods and tornados, to name a few. Just as the best time to deal with an car accident is to prevent it before it happens, the best time to deal with a disaster is before it strikes.

Here are a few professional forecasts. 2011 will have more than usual tornados with increased damage. While hurricanes are expected to decline in number, forecasters are already describing a long, hot, dry drought for the far western states with conditions ripe for forest fires. After forest fires frequently come mudslides. While March winds and April showers may bring May flowers, they also bring locally heavy rains and flooding which is forecasted for the entire eastern third of the United States. 

Do you have a written disaster plan to protect your business? What if a "minor" adversity like rolling black outs occur and your business is without electricity for 2 - 3 hours a day for a week or two? What steps have you taken to protect your business? Here are some things to consider as you make your plans.  Remember, don't just think about a plan. Write it down. Prioritize. People first. Make sure you write it down as you may not be thinking clearly when that emergency comes. And please remember, it is not a matter of IF a disaster will occur, it is a matter of WHEN.

Procedures should be established to ensure the health and safety of your customers, your employees and yourself and  return stability to your business, maintain continuity, and protect your property. The objective of this article is to create awareness that will help you to consider the steps you may need to complete in a disaster situation. Why written? Think about it now. In a true emergency, you may not think clearly. Write down what to do in the order it needs to be done and check off each item as it is completed. Do not rely on your memory. Have multiple copies of your emergency procedures manual stored in multiple places where you can always get a copy quickly. 

First and foremost, in any emergency, make sure you, your employees and your customers are safe. Do you have a contact list with every employee listed? Is the contact information up-to-date? When did you last check? Where is the information stored? If you keep the one and only set of original paperwork in a file cabinet off the employee break room, how much help will it be if your business is hit by a tornado and the file cabinet is gone? Keep at least names and contact information at home and at your place of business. 

Imagine your store without electricity? Is it well lit? How about at night? Is it multiple stories? How will you evacuate your customers and employees safely if you were suddenly faced with no electricity? Do you have flashlights that provide adequate light to safely exit the building? Where are they kept? When did you last check the flashlight batteries? Where are additional batteries stored?  Does your store have security doors that automatically close and lock? Who knows and can perform the correct procedures to open these doors? What procedures are there to get a customer out the south exit if the main exit is on the north side of the building?

Does your store have elevators? Do you know how to rescue passengers should any be stranded? If there is a manual procedure for releasing stranded passengers, who knows it?  When was the last time the procedure was tested? Where are the numbers kept for emergency service for the elevators?

Does the store have a first aid kit? Is it well stocked? Who checked it last? Have the medications (pills or ointments, etc.) expired or are they still good? So often we buy the kit and it's still sitting "somewhere in the back" 10 years later.  Find it and check it out.

Do you have fire extinguishers? When were they last tested? Fire extinguishers also have expiration dates. Check yours now. Even if maintenance of fire extinguishers are performed by property owners, check them. No one wants to discover that a fire extinguisher doesn't work when smoke or a small fire is discovered.

Being prepared before an emergency or disaster will arm you and your staff to handle life's little inconveniences with relative ease, and life's major disasters with an some idea of what to do first. Don't wait for the lights to go out to consider what you can do!