Almost 40 percent of small businesses that close because of disasters never reopen, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. With meteorologists predicting a busier than usual hurricane season ahead, that’s all the more reason to be prepared. And that means developing a business disaster plan, says Laurie Feagans, director of the Manatee County Office of Emergency Management. 

Feagans makes it easy for Manatee County businesses by offering a business disaster plan template right on the Manatee County government Web site, mymanatee.org. She also recommends another excellent template at floridadisaster.org, the Web site of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

At the heart of the plan: Business owners should determine the critical services they need to move if their facility is unusable for whatever reason, how many employees they will need to perform those critical services and how they are going to notify employees and customers, says Feagans.

Most importantly, she says, teach your employees the disaster plan and exercise it. “It can be as simple as visiting—even driving by—the place you’ll be relocating to,” she says. “Businesses are only as good as their employees are prepared.”

Averting Disaster

1

Prepare your office for the storm by shuttering. “Commercial products are wonderful if you can afford that,” says Feagans. “[But] even three-quarter-inch plywood keeps the building whole.”

2

Power rules. Definitely get a generator if you can afford it, she says. “The longer you’re without power, the longer you’ll be out of business.” First define the critical systems you want to run on the generator, then let the generator salesperson guide you on the size of the system you’ll need.

3

Encourage employees to develop personal preparedness plans. If the employees are not prepared, then the business takes that much longer to get back up and running. Every county has a “know your evacuation zone” link on its Web site. “Ask your employees to mark with a pushpin where they live so you’ll know how many will have to evacuate,” she suggests. And don’t forget to help them identify pet-friendly shelters.

4

Create an employee advocacy program. Can you help your employees shutter their homes? Can employees who don’t live in evacuation zones take in those who do? The purpose is to “get them whole,” says Feagans, “because if they’re not, they’re not getting back to work.”

5

Learn the local re-entry plan. “If we get hit, we’ll have roadblocks up for areas that are compromised,” explains Feagans. “Learn what kind of identification or credentialing you have to go through to get back into your business.”

6

Take the time to meet your county emergency preparedness director. “A lot of local businesses have great resources that county government may be able to use in recovering from a disaster,” says Feagans. In Manatee County, businesses can register themselves in the Economic Development Council database, then, “If we need 50 Port-o-lets and you can sell them to us, we’ll know who you are.”

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