Lessons Learned: Disaster & Crisis Planning

The sixth and final part of an ongoing series of blog posts on lessons learned from COVID 19. Nobody likes to think about a disaster or crisis impacting their small business.  But the Covid 19 global pandemic brought the importance of disaster planning to the forefront.  Properly preparing for a crisis means your business will survive, recover and even thrive when times are tough.  

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  –Benjamin Franklin 

What is disaster & crisis planning?

A disaster or crisis can be a natural disaster such as a major storm, flood or pandemic; a human threat such as a cybersecurity attack, human error or violence; or a technological failure such as an extended power outage or equipment failure.  

Disaster and crises planning is a process for assessing the most likely risks to your business and developing a specific plan of action to prevent and mitigate them.  According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 75% of businesses without a plan close within 3 years following a disaster.  

Start with a solid foundation

Before you can identify and plan for a specific threat, you need to take care of the basics to make your business more resilient.

Insurance

Talk to your insurance broker about property, liability, and professional insurance, as well as “key person” life insurance. Make sure you understand what is covered by your insurance policies and what is not. Document your assets with pictures on an annual basis and back them up to the cloud.

Financial Planning

A small business should ideally have enough funding to cover three months of expenses in case of an extended crisis.  Talk to a Maine SBDC business advisor to help you understand your working capital and rainy day funding needs.

Legal Structure

Make sure your legal structure matches your business. You may have outgrown a sole proprietorship and need the legal protection of an LLC or corporation.

Safety Regulations and Requirements

Be sure you understand your federal, state and local requirements for worker safety, fire prevention and required safety equipment for your business. Budget for the staff training and certifications relevant to your industry. Test and certify your emergency equipment on a regular basis. Talk to local emergency personnel about how you can work together to reduce the impact of a crisis. 

Cybersecurity

Work with an IT specialist to make sure you have the necessary software, backup and security protocols in place to protect you in case of a data breach or equipment failure. Have a system in place to change and track your passwords and codes on a regular basis. 

Emergency Contact List

Prepare and have easy access to contact information for staff, vendors, insurance agents, security and POS companies, and emergency or cleanup services you may need.

Developing your plan

Risk Assessment

After taking care of these essential steps above, you’ll need to assess the most likely risks to your business, which are based on your industry and geographic location. Focus on those risks that have the greatest degree of probability and impact on your business.  For example, Maine has the highest electric outage rate in the nation.  If an extended power outage is a risk to your business, develop a plan for mitigating it.  If you’re in an industry where a product or service failure could be damaging to the safety of your customers and staff,or to your business reputation, be sure you have mapped out a prevention plan, and know what to do if it happens.

Planning

Once you identify the greatest risks to your business, develop a separate plan for addressing each threat. A cybersecurity plan will look very different than your plan for a fire or flood.  A viral and damaging social media post will require a different strategy altogether.

Typically a crisis or disaster plan includes identifying the roles and responsibilities of staff before, during and after the event.  It also includes specific plans to keep people safe if there is a physical threat, along with a communications plan.  It can also include a strategy to change or adapt your business model or operations in the event of long-term impact. 

While nobody likes to think about the unthinkable, developing a plan for potential threats will help you respond quickly and strategically. Failure to plan ahead means you’ll make decisions under stress which leaves you open to costly mistakes and wasted time. Ultimately, having a plan in place means you’ll rest easier by knowing you’ve done all you can to protect your staff, customers and business.

Additional Resources

Sometimes disaster planning can feel as overwhelming as the event itself.  To get you started, request advising from a Maine SBDC Business advisor to help you identify the most important first steps.  The resources below also offer planning guides and other helpful advice.

https://www.ready.gov/

https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage-your-business/prepare-emergencies

https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/preparing-for-a-disaster-taxpayers-and-businesses

https://www.maine.gov/mema/maine-prepares 

https:/www.redcross.org/