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Some of the basics of disaster planning for small businesses

By JOYCE M. ROSENBERGJuly 31, 2019
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FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, some roofs damaged by the whip of Hurricane Maria are shown still exposed to rainy weather conditions, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Despite the potential for hurricanes and other natural disasters, many small business owners don’t prepare for the worst, leaving them to learn during a crisis what they should have done differently. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)
1 of 4
FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, some roofs damaged by the whip of Hurricane Maria are shown still exposed to rainy weather conditions, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Despite the potential for hurricanes and other natural disasters, many small business owners don’t prepare for the worst, leaving them to learn during a crisis what they should have done differently. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Preparing a small business for a disaster like a hurricane or wildfire requires time and attention, but many owners worried about more immediate concerns may never get to do much planning. They should be sure they protect the most critical parts of their operations, starting with employees, customers and data.

Some of the basics:

—Communication. Owners should think ahead to how they’ll be in touch with staffers, customers and vendors. If phones are down, do they have alternatives like online messaging? They should have contact information for everyone — phone numbers, email, addresses for where staffers will be located.

Companies with newer technology will be in a better position to keep communicating during an emergency. Stewart Guss’s law practice had a phone system that operated from a server in his office in Houston. When Hurricane Harvey knocked out power, Guss and his managers scrambled to get an alternative system using cellphones up and running. Now his phone system is internet-based and accessible from far away.

—Data. With the availability of cloud, or online, data storage, companies won’t lose data even if their onsite computers are destroyed. Cloud storage also enables companies to keep operating when staffers have evacuated to far-flung places.

—Money and insurance. Owners should have emergency cash available. They should also know what losses their insurance will cover. Sean Tomalty, a dentist with six locations in Florida, discovered after Hurricane Irma that while his policy would cover his expenses including payroll, his business wasn’t out of operation long enough to qualify.

“We now keep sufficient cash reserves in each location at all times to protect ourselves if another natural disaster were to occur,” he says.

—Power. Owners who want to keep critical equipment running even if the power goes out need to bring in generators. The sooner, the better, as generators will disappear from stores as soon as a storm appears on the way. After Hurricane Maria left Carlos Melendez’s San Juan, Puerto Rico-based technology company, Wovenware, without power for weeks, he began investing in generators. And in case his internet provider doesn’t have power, “we have another, backup internet,” he says.

More information on disaster preparation is available at www.preparemybusiness.org and www.ready.gov/business .

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Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg . Her work can be found here: https://apnews.com

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