Because hurricanes and other natural disasters don’t discriminate, small businesses need to be just as prepared as big businesses when it comes to disaster planning and recovery. Here are a few common-sense tips along with some new digital-device thinking that will help your small business prepare in advance to manage any repercussions from a natural disaster.
If your business involves work that is mainly electronic or digital in nature, now is a good time to look into the so-called “cloud” solutions that can host everything from simple data files to actual interactive applications on the Internet. While big enterprise businesses perhaps benefit more from having their applications and data available to their worldwide workforces, even small businesses and individuals can get in on the cloud movement, often starting for free.
Simple storage services from providers like Box.com and Dropbox.com let you create virtual file folders on the company’s site, where you and your co-workers can access them from anywhere with an Internet connection. These systems do more than support mobile workers. They are also a cheap and easy backup and disaster-recovery solution, especially if your office servers are offline or you can’t get to the office. If you haven’t already, it’s also a good idea to make sure that all employees have some kind of alternate email address – such as a free Gmail or Yahoo account in case work email goes down.
- Train employees in remote communications before disaster strikes
Working from home is a growing trend for many businesses, but small businesses may not have a dedicated IT staffer to help train employees on the nuances of remote communications. It’s best to learn now, and not when everyone is scrambling after a disaster.
Schedule training or even a regular remote meeting to get as many employees as possible up to speed on the various methods available for remote collaboration. New, cheap and easy systems such as Skype or Oovoo allow for multiple-person video conferences for free or low costs. Teaching everyone in your company how to set up webcams or to use the cameras in laptops could make post-disaster communication a lot easier.
- Put a disaster plan in place, with set methods for establishing contact
When big disasters such as Hurricane Sandy hit, one of the hardest things facing most businesses is simple communications. When regular phone lines and cellular systems go down, and a power outage keeps workers off the Internet, a pre-disaster communications plan can go a long way toward keeping business processes flowing. It’s ok to keep copies of the plan online. And having paper copies – remember, no power – of how to contact managers, who will disseminate information, who needs to contact whom will help keep everyone on the same page.
- Think simple and small when it comes to having power
While telephone systems and Internet networks are typically pretty robust, the electrical grid is more exposed to the elements and more susceptible during major storms. Losing power may diminish many business activities, and having a small amount of battery or generator power can mean a lot to a small business. They can help charge cell phones or keep electrical equipment, such as computer servers or refrigerators, running until power is restored.
Diesel and gas generators may not work for many small businesses in office locations. Consider personal emergency equipment, such as portable battery-operated generators or even crank-powered emergency radios, most of which now come with USB connectivity to recharge cell phones. An office earthquake kit is a good idea even if you aren’t near a fault line. Simple survival items, such as candles, flashlights and food, may be worth their weight in gold if you have to spend an unscheduled night at the office. Camping headband flashlights are also a great idea to have around, since they free hands for other work.