Disaster Preparedness Checklist

Preparing your business and your employees for a storm or other natural disaster requires planning and communicating. Many times, disasters happen when we least expect them. Just look at Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in August 2005. No one expected Katrina would turn from a tropical depression into a category four hurricane in less than a week, but it did, and many business owners found themselves without a plan when the mega-storm hit land. You don’t want to be caught unprepared and risk losing the business you’ve worked hard to build. Make sure you’re protecting your business and employees by considering this disaster preparedness checklist.

General Preparedness

If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. The only way to do this is to have a plan in place. There are many types of natural and manmade disasters that you can prepare your business for. Accidents, rain and snowstorms, drought, wildfires and even terrorist attacks can greatly impact your business, and in some cases even cause you to go out of business.

The best way to prepare for unexpected disasters is to have a clear plan of action in place for different aspects of your business and property. Make sure you develop a plan for employees, property, equipment and other assets essential to your daily business operations. Hopefully, you can carry on with business as usual after a disaster strikes, but having an emergency preparedness plan in place greatly increases your chances.

There is no way to prepare for every disaster scenario imaginable, though. This is important to understand so you don’t fall victim to paralysis by analysis. You don’t want to suffocate yourself worrying over every last disaster or emergency situation possible. That said, there are a few general ways to prepare yourself and your business for the possibility of a disaster happening. There are a few ways to get started developing your disaster plan and preparing your business for an emergency.

Know Your Region

Start by understanding the types of disasters most likely to occur regularly in your region of the country, or the world for that matter. This is the first step to emergency preparedness. Are you physically located on the East Coast or the Gulf of Mexico where hurricanes are likely to make landfall? Perhaps you’re based on the West Coast where wildfires and earthquakes are a threat, or you’re in the midwest where dangerous tornadoes touch down seemingly every day in the summer. Start the planning process by knowing your region and the most typical types of natural disasters you’re likely to experience there.

Know Who to Contact

When disaster strikes, your ability to communicate is imperative. Knowing who to contact and when to contact them is a large part of your business’s emergency preparedness. Create an emergency contact list and have all of your employees provide their information. You’ll also need important phone numbers for various emergency response teams including 911, the local sheriff’s department and other emergency response teams. You’ll find that your ability to quickly contact service providers such as the power company and other utility companies is extremely helpful in the event of a disaster.

The people and services you need to contact in case of a disaster will obviously differ between industries and businesses, but to give you a general sense of the types of emergency contacts you need, consider these:

  • information technology specialists
  • maintenance or janitorial crews
  • data management teams
  • cleanup and restoration services
  • vendors and suppliers
  • federal emergency departments
  • insurance agents or providers

Disaster Preparedness for Employees

Creating a preparedness plan for your employees is a big part of preparing your business for unexpected emergencies and disasters. Your employees are your greatest resource, so protecting them should be a top priority for your business. Consider these four ways to prepare your employees for a disaster:

  • Create an emergency contact list
  • Train and educate employees on the disaster plan
  • Consider additional planning to meet employee needs
  • Create a system for workplace communication

Create an Emergency Contact List

A first step to preparing your employees is to create an emergency contact list complete with your employees’ information. Be sure that you constantly update and maintain this list by adding information for new hires and removing any former employees. This list will vary depending on your business and the industry you’re in, but creating a comprehensive list with all of the emergency contact information you and your employees need is a crucial part of your plan. Besides contact information, your employees need to know what to do during a disaster or emergency situation.

Train and Educate Employees on Disaster Plan

Training and educating your employees on a disaster plan is vital to operating a successful business. First, if you have more than 10 employees, then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires emergency response plans or guidelines for your business. Having an emergency preparedness plan will help your employees identify what needs to be done in the event of a disaster or emergency situation.

Training and educating your employees in areas such as the most important types of equipment to save during a disaster, the steps to take for evacuation and the procedures for protecting themselves during dangerous storms are all good examples of the things your employees need to be trained in. You’ll also want them to know which types of data and other important files need to be backed up regularly so they’re not lost in case of an emergency or natural disaster. Planning so you’re prepared for a disaster is a full-time practice.

Consider Additional Planning to Meet Employees Needs

Some of your employees might have special needs or medical conditions that you’ll need to account for when creating a disaster preparedness plan. Understanding their needs is an important aspect of the process. Employees with disabilities and other certain medical and health conditions might not be able to access the same emergency services, operate safety equipment or quickly reach the exits if a disaster happens. Having a plan in place to accommodate and meet the needs of all your employees in case of an emergency is key to your disaster response success.

Create a System for Workplace Communication

As part of your training and education program with employees, you’ll want to create a system for workplace communication. Develop a clear hierarchy of important points of contact for your business. When a disaster strikes, communication is more important than ever. Have your employees prepared with the information they need. Establish a system of communication that dictates who is responsible for communicating issues such as shutdowns and reopens.

Disaster Preparedness for Property

Preparing your property for disaster situations is another important part of planning. Property such as the grounds and buildings that house your business is a major asset and needs to be protected.

Geographic location isn’t the only consideration you need to make. Look at the terrain and topography surrounding your business and property. If you’re near a stream or river, then you might be under threat of flooding during periods of heavy rainfall. Inspect the property carefully and take a look around the grounds to identify any other types of threats such as trees, plants or other overgrown vegetation, and be sure it’s cut or trimmed back to a safe distance. You’ll need to take a few steps to ensure this is happening as it should.

  • Identify a property and safety manager
  • Locate utility shutoffs
  • Ensure your business is meeting fire codes
  • Develop evacuation locations and shelters

Identify a Property and Safety Manager

Hiring and appointing someone in this role is essential to preparing your property for disaster and emergency scenarios. Your property manager is responsible for ensuring your business and its property are ready to handle the challenges associated with an unexpected disaster. A good property manager should have extensive knowledge of safety procedures including the steps that your business needs to take to prepare your property.

Your property manager’s duties include managing safety. They should organize all safety equipment and test it to be sure it’s working properly and is up-to-date. Smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and alarms are all examples of the types of safety equipment that need to be checked and tested regularly. Your property manager can act as your safety manager or you can hire and appoint a different person for this role.

Regardless of your business’s industry, a property and safety manager need to work together to ensure safety standards are being met and upheld. This will prepare your business’s property for an unexpected emergency or disaster.

Locate Utility Shutoffs

Locating your utility shutoffs is the first step to ensuring your property and business are prepared for an emergency. This duty is an extension of your property and safety manager’s responsibilities. There are a few key utilities that you’ll need to locate and understand in order to prepare for a disaster.

  • Electrical circuit breaker
  • Gas or natural gas main valves
  • Water lines and shutoff valves
  • Cable boxes and internet modems

Electrical circuit breakers are oftentimes tripped when the power is flickering off and on during storms and outages. The sudden bursts of electricity can cause your breaker to trip. If you know a storm is approaching, it is wise to turn off the power at the main breaker before evacuating and turn it back on after returning. This also means you should check all electrical equipment for damage such as frayed or broken wires before turning your breaker back on after a storm passes.

Gas, water and cable or internet power sources should also be located and turned off when preparing for a natural disaster. Your property manager needs to have a plan in place for how and when these services are turned off and on before and after a storm. Your water and gas are often controlled by turning the main valve off and on. It is important to know where these are located and how to operate them in the event of a disaster or other emergency.

Ensure Your Business is Meeting Fire Codes

Many times, the fire marshal will conduct regular inspections to ensure your business is up to fire code and meeting standards. However, it’s wise to have a plan and procedure in place for this ahead of time. Your property and safety manager should have extensive knowledge of state and local fire codes so that they can adequately prepare your business for inspections and the event of a fire. Things like maximum capacity, fire extinguishers and hazards are all areas that your local fire marshal will check for compliance. Failure to comply can result in shutdowns and fines for your business. Also, your insurance policy will likely deny any claims involving fires if your business’s property is not up to code.

Develop Evacuation Locations and Shelters

When disaster strikes, your employees need to know where they can safely evacuate or shelter themselves on your business’s premises. Clearly labeled and marked signage is a good place to start. Exit signs above emergency exits need to be working properly and visible for employees and patrons alike. The fire marshal will ensure your exits are clearly marked, but it’s wise not to wait for the fire marshal to point out any deficiencies in your property.

You’ll also want to establish and locate safe places where your employees and patrons can shelter in the event of a dangerous emergency or storm. Sudden disasters such as tornadoes are an example of emergency situations that require safe places to shelter. If your business doesn’t have a safe shelter in place, then creating one needs to be a priority. Interior rooms such as bathrooms or basements are ideal locations to shelter during dangerous storms or tornadoes. Have your property manager identify and locate safe places around your property that can be used in case of a disaster or emergency. This will keep your employees and patrons safe until the storm passes.

Disaster Preparedness for Equipment and Assets

Preparing your property for a disaster also includes your equipment and other important assets. Business emergency preparedness involves having a plan for protecting and salvaging your essential equipment and other assets necessary for conducting business. After a disaster strikes, your main focus needs to be resuming business operations as quickly as possible and mitigating any losses.

Consider these three preparations:

  • Obtain safety equipment
  • Maintain equipment inventory system
  • Back up critical data and information

Obtain Safety Equipment

It is important that your business is prepared for disasters and emergencies with the proper safety equipment. Sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, fire alarms and fire extinguishers are all examples of necessary safety equipment your business needs on-hand and readily accessible for use. These items need to be obtained, maintained and clearly marked in case of an emergency. Your property or safety manager should regularly test safety equipment and ensure everything is in proper working order.

Maintain Equipment Inventory System

An equipment inventory system tells you and your employees exactly which assets your business owns and needs to protect. After a disastrous storm such as a hurricane or tornado that brings heavy rain and wind, it is possible that your equipment gets scattered and dispersed. Having an updated equipment inventory system helps you locate assets after disasters. It also helps you file any insurance claims for lost, damaged or broken equipment that needs to be replaced after a devastating storm or other emergency crisis. A system that marks and labels your business’s equipment and assets will help you identify destroyed or damaged equipment. Keep a database or other inventory tracking system maintained and updated with new equipment as you acquire it. Take note of serial numbers, keep receipts and regularly check your equipment to ensure it’s inventoried properly.

Back Up Critical Data and Information

Scheduling regular daily or weekly data backups is crucial to preparing your business for a disaster or other emergency. There are several ways to do this such as using cloud storage and creating physical backups of computer databases and files using removable hard drives to save information. You’ll also want to consider operating your computers with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) in order to safely shut down your computers when the electricity unexpectedly shuts off. A UPS will provide a continuous supply of power for a few minutes even when the electricity goes out. This prevents your computer hard drives from being damaged or erased during power outages associated with disastrous storms.

Also, be sure to keep any removable hard drives in a safe location that is easily accessed after a storm or other disaster. Water- and fireproof safes are great choices for storing drives with sensitive data and information. You’ll be happy that you have backed-up copies of your data and other vital information if your computers are damaged or ruined during a storm or other emergency.

Disaster Preparedness for Insurance

As a business owner, you know the importance of insurance. To prepare for an emergency or disaster, ensure your business is covered with the right insurance policies and coverage. Pay close attention to your insurance policy and understand what’s covered and what’s not covered. Insurance policies have very specific wording, so it’s important that you regularly review your documents.

Meet With Your Agent

If you’re not sure what your insurance policy covers, then it’s important to meet with your insurance agent as soon as possible to review and ask questions. There are a few areas of your policy that you’ll want to consider when you meet with your insurance agent or provider. First, check to see what’s covered. This sounds simple, but it’s really an important area to consider.

Review Policy to Get the Best Coverage

Many times, if you’re insured against hurricanes, then that only covers certain damage from a storm. Hurricane coverage, for example, typically covers wind damage but not flood damage. Flood insurance is usually separate from hurricane insurance. Inspect your insurance policy right away to ensure you’re covered for any damage caused by disastrous storms. Take note of your coverage and be ready with a list of questions when you meet with your provider or agent. Understanding what’s covered in your policy and what’s not is an important step to preparing your business for emergency situations.

You’ll also want to review your policy to ensure you’re receiving the best coverage at the best possible rate. Overpaying for insurance is prevalent across various types of businesses because it’s something that you must have to conduct business. You certainly don’t want to overpay only to discover that you’re not covered when disaster happens. To save on your insurance and get the best coverage, be sure you have an emergency preparedness plan in place and if possible, try to own your equipment outright and not finance or lease. This will save you money on your premiums while ensuring your equipment is replaced or paid for in the event of an emergency.

Schedule a Meeting With URI to Develop Your Disaster Preparedness Plan

Preparing your business for emergency situations requires careful planning. At Unlimited Restoration, we’re committed to helping you develop a disaster preparedness plan that gets your business up and running as quickly and safely as possible after disaster strikes.

Disasters happen without warning. Don’t wait until it’s too late! Stay ahead of the competition by keeping your business safe and prepared.

Contact the pros at URI to schedule a meeting and start preparing your business for emergencies today.


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