Staring Down Disaster

Sound planning can provide life support to small businesses when catastrophe strikes

To make sure your business can keep running during a crisis, think proactively:
Find an alternative location. If your business can’t be run remotely or virtually, identify a backup location to operate from temporarily or make agreements with a similar business to use their facility or equipment in an emergency, McClure says.

Create a data backup system. Not only should you keep copies of insurance policies and property records in a safe place, but make copies of employee contact information, vendor contracts, and customer data to store in a separate location as well. The same rules apply for electronic data. “A small business owner might decide to back up his critical data on a disc or USB flash drive or external hard drive, but if he keeps it on the same desk that the computer is on and the building burns down, the backup does him no good,” notes McClure. All of Comtactics’ data and sensitive materials were backed up on a remote server that executed a 72-hour automated sync process.

Also, create a manual with all computer passwords and software product keys and store it in a separate, safe location. “The first thing you need to do when the server crashes is assess the damage and cause, and try to ‘rebuild’ the server with software tools and the operating system,” says Marcus Simpson, vice president of marketing and information technology consultant for Lexington, Kentucky-based Technology Consulting Group America. “After the rebuild, the backup data can be restored back to the drive.”

Get everyone involved. Let employees know where to report or whom to call in an emergency. By sharing details of the plan, you create buy-in and employee loyalty, says Becky Marquis, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Business Campaign, which helps business owners minimize the effects of a disaster through planning. Go to www.Ready.gov and click on Ready Business for lots of helpful planning resources.

Talk to suppliers. If you depend on certain suppliers, have a backup on hand in the event business is disrupted because of an emergency. Also, speak with your suppliers beforehand about how they would get products to you if you ever needed to relocate quickly, Screen suggests.

While no one likes to imagine the worst, “the key to getting through a disaster is thinking of every kind of risk that could hurt your company,” says Barton. He adds that doing so won’t make you pessimistic. “It will make you a very smart business owner.”

This story originally appeared in the 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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