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Disaster Preparedness | February 17, 2017

Establishing a Disaster Recovery Plan for Small Business

What if disaster hits tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Are you ready? Is your small business? Disaster plans are essential if you are planning on your business’ survival in the years ahead. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has said that more than 40% of businesses are not able to reopen after a disaster. Even if a business does reopen, fewer than one-third are still operating two years later. That’s why having a disaster recovery plan for small business is essential for every small business owner, and the key is to be prepared in advance.

We spoke with Anita Campbell, the founder, CEO and publisher of Small Business Trends, about the best ways to create and implement a business disaster recovery plan. Campbell was very clear that an effective business disaster plan is a combination of being prepared and taking contingency action.

Creating your small business emergency plan

A business disaster plan has two basic aspects: (1) physical operation, and (2) online and communication continuity. Depending on the type of business, one might be more important than the other to your business. If you have a business that relies on physical operation (like a brick-and-mortar retailer or other “walk-in”), there are ways to have a business disaster plan that will keep your physical assets, employees and customers safe. Remember, disaster planning and recovery isn’t just about the business itself — it’s also about your employees and customers. Some recommendations include:

  • Have a backup generator so that your power could stay on for a period of time during a power outage.
  • Have a small business emergency plan to secure the premises quickly and safely.
  • Have an alternate location where you could do business in the event that your primary location is not usable.

One example that Campbell gave of an excellent business disaster plan was a Florida talk show host who moved his broadcast location across the country when he began receiving notice of a hurricane that was forecast to hit the region. By doing that, he knew that he would be able to keep his show on the air, which would provide important safety information to his listeners as they weathered the storm.

Business disaster plans for communication and continuity

In all likelihood, the crux of your business disaster recovery plan is to make sure that you can stay in contact with your staff, vendors, customers and others with whom you do business. While “disaster” could mean any number of things, depending on where you are located and the type of business, if you employ people, your priority is likely to make sure that they are safe and that you can communicate with them in order to keep the business secure. As part of the disaster recovery plan for small business, consider the following:

  • Do your employees know who to call? Where to check? What to do? Set forth a small business emergency plan so that your staff isn’t scrambling in the event of a fast-moving event such as a tornado.
  • How do you intend to stay in business and serve customers?
  • Is there a communication plan in place with employees in the event that phone and internet is unavailable?

Regardless of the type of small business emergency plan that you employ, online continuity could be the thing that saves you after a disaster. Planning and recovery can be made easier when you’re already storing data in the cloud, rather than in a single location. In other words, if you store all of your business records on a single computer or server, whether it’s on- or off-site, if disaster hits where the server is located, you could lose everything. And it doesn’t need to be a huge natural disaster, either… fire, flood, or even theft can take down a business if records are not stored properly. Cloud hosting is the use of a virtual server that is part of a network that involves data centers in various locations. Simply, it means that your data is not stored in a single place, which means that it cannot be easily destroyed by a physical event at a particular location. All of your data files and software can be in the cloud, which means that you can access them from anywhere. This is huge with respect to a business disaster recovery plan because it could mean the difference between survival and failure. Don’t wait for there to be a small business emergency; hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

From Anita Campbell:

“My advice for every small business is that no matter what your size, focus on the planning process.”

Insurance for your disaster planning and recovery

We all have insurance in our personal lives — homeowners’, vehicle, health, and maybe more. It’s just as important to have robust coverage as part of your business disaster recovery plan. “You really need to talk with your insurance agent,” stresses Campbell. “There are only certain companies that offer business insurance for small business. It’s very different from other kinds of insurance you have.”

So, what are the kinds of small business insurance to consider? You likely need insurance on your physical property, but also for interruptions to your cyber existence, and “key man” insurance (life insurance on the key individuals in a business, or those without whom the business wouldn’t be able to continue).

If a disaster happens, here’s what to consider:

  1. First, protect the lives and safety of anyone on the premises such as employees or customers.
  2. Second, evaluate the extent of the damage, and consider how you would get back up and running.

If it’s a physical disaster, one of your first calls should be to your insurance agent to document any damage. If there’s a liability issue because physical harm has occurred to customers or employees, it’s especially important that the insurance agency has thorough and accurate documentation.

A DDoS attack is a distributed denial-of-service attack. This happens when multiple systems flood bandwidth or resources with one or more web servers on a target; in other words, it’s an attempt to make your online service unavailable. These attacks are becoming more prevalent. For example, a large-scale DDoS attack caused a massive outage in the U.S. in October of 2016. If your company is involved in e-commerce, or even if you use the internet for your day-to-day operations, this could be as crippling to your business as a flood or fire. That’s why part of your small business emergency plan should be to protect and mitigate against a cyber attack. You can make data breach insurance part of your business’ disaster recovery plan.

Ultimately, statistics show that two contributing factors as to why not many small businesses can survive after a disaster is because there either isn’t a disaster recovery plan for small business in place, or they didn’t have the insurance protection to keep them up and running. As Campbell says, “The smaller the business, the less likely to have any kind of disaster recovery or business interruption plan, or any kind of coverage.” Don’t let that be you or your business… plan ahead. There’s no way any of us can predict the future, but preparation — both for your physical and online business interests — goes a long way toward your small business’ survival.

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