Disaster recovery

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster most people are in a state of shock, still processing what’s happened to them. Unfortunately, there’s little time for contemplation or self-pity if you want to limit the extent of any further losses, and get your staff and business in a position to safely recover.

Safety should be your first priority

The first priority is to make sure you, your staff, and your customers are safe.

If you’re at your workplace at the time disaster strikes, the first step is to evacuate the building and move away to an area of safety, which will vary depending on the type of disaster and its potential to do harm.

Once people are safe from any further harm:

  • Determine whether people have any injuries.
  • Identify your first aid officers to give first aid treatment on-site.
  • Arrange for people with serious injuries to be taken to hospital.

"If resuming business is an option, the sooner you start operating, the lower your losses are likely to be. "

Remember to evacuate using the stairs and not the elevators – and resist worrying about items you hope to save.

If the disaster struck when people were not at work, think before you act. It’s natural to want to rush in and salvage whatever can be recovered, but you first need to ensure the building is safe to enter.

If the disaster is widespread, check for updates on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

Assess the damage for claims

As soon as you’re able to access your business, start evaluating the damage for which you can file insurance claims. Use a camera or smartphone to document any damage to buildings, assets and inventory.

Contact insurers to find out if they need to assess the damage before you start to clean up.

If several businesses have been affected by the disaster, the government or other national, regional or industry agencies might set up funds that offer additional compensation or assistance for businesses not insured.

Businesses can apply for Disaster Assistance from the US Government (via the US Small Business Administration) online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

Speak to other affected business owners to find out about other forms of assistance you might not be aware of, and search the Internet for organizations offering relief and assistance.

Be sure to ask for help

If your business has been affected by a natural disaster, you can seek help from:

  • Your staff – they’ll probably be anxious about their future and willing to provide assistance. Use their help in the most needed areas. For example, you might need help cleaning up or you might need people to work from home to meet your business’s obligations.
  • Neighbors, family and friends – there’s no need to struggle on your own when others may be willing to help.
  • Your bank manager – show your bank your recovery plan and discuss additional finance options, or how to restructure your payments to ensure the business survives.

Get in contact with your customers

Communicate early and frequently with your customers. They’re likely to be supportive, but they’ll want to know how they’ll be affected. If supplies or services will be disrupted, give them a clear picture of the extent of the problem and when you expect to be able to deliver.

If the situation changes, keep your customers in the loop. They’ll be more inclined to support you once your business is back on its feet if you’ve been honest and upfront about delivery interruptions.

They’ll be less supportive if they’ve been inconvenienced and had to source emergency supplies elsewhere through lack of communication.

Be realistic about delivery times as you recover from the disaster.

Get in touch with your suppliers

Keep your suppliers up to date as well. Again, effective communication is critical to maintaining long-term relationships. You might need to postpone or even cancel orders – or you might urgently need replacement stock. Either way, clear communication will ensure you get the support you need.

Get back up and running

Your business type, the extent of the damages, and the extent to which you have contingency plans in place will all affect when or whether you can resume business after a disaster.

If resuming business is an option, the sooner you start operating, the lower your losses are likely to be.

Resuming will be easier for businesses that offer information or services because at least some of these business functions can be run remotely from home or alternative locations. Your staff might also be able to work from home to meet deadlines and contractual obligations.

Collaborate with other businesses

If you’re not able to resume in a short space of time, consider collaborating with other businesses to ensure you don’t let your customers down.

For example, you could:

  • Outsource work or orders you’re not able to complete in-house until you’re operating again.
  • Form a partnership with a similar business elsewhere to meet business obligations.
  • Explore sourcing supplies locally or from other areas.

Discuss your options with business advisors such as your accountant, lawyer, mentor and network of business colleagues. Your staff might also have some innovative solutions, so run a brainstorming session with senior staff on how to limit losses in your business.

Next steps

  • Review how vulnerable your business is at present to a major disaster (earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane, pandemic or economic turmoil).
  • Prepare a contingency plan for business recovery.
  • Send selected staff on first-aid courses and ensure you have first aid-kits, fire extinguishers and other recovery or escape gear in good order.
  • Ensure key employees have laptops, tablets and smartphones to stay productive after a disaster.
  • Consider upgrading business data backup, including cloud storage options. 

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