While there have always been natural disasters it would seem that they have gathered frequency and momentum in recent years. This is perhaps due to 24 hour news channels and more accurate coverage, as well as climate issues, which have been at the heart of many natural disasters and strange weather phenomena in recent years. Contemporary weather events, such as Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest natural disasters ever, the storms and flash floods that hit Toronto, Canada, in 2013, and the tornadoes that ripped through the south-central United States earlier this year, have proved utterly devastating, not only for those who sadly lost their lives and homes, but also for the numerous business owners who lost everything.
Natural disasters are perhaps all the more devastating as they often strike without warning, and with incomparable force and destruction. For businesses, both big and small, these freak weather events have the potential to destroy everything, from stocks and produce, to premises, business records, and their very source of income; in essence, everything that has been worked for. Business owners are also responsible for their employees’ income, and will be left the task of recouping their losses too; the destruction of a business doesn’t just stop with its owners and managers. The prospect of starting again can be both daunting and upsetting, which is why it pays to be prepared for every eventuality.
When it comes to natural disasters there is no such thing as being too prepared; after all, the effects of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, which cost over $105 billion in repairs, can be utterly devastating for all companies, whatever their size. Luckily there are several ways in which business owners can prepare and protect their livelihoods, including taking long-term precautions and those which can be put into action immediately on becoming aware of a pending threat such as severe weather, tsunami or earthquake.
Prepare in advance and stay informed: It is a business owner’s responsibility to remain aware of any weather warnings that have been issued for the local area, particularly in towns and cities that are at an increased risk of natural phenomena, such as flooding, earthquakes or tornadoes. This will often allow for the appropriate measures to be put in place in advance of a natural disaster striking; for example, flood barriers can be erected, windows can be boarded up, emergency kits prepared, electrical items unplugged in the eventuality of a power surge, and equipment and data secured effectively. It is also important for business owners to know and understand protocol, such as which utility companies to contact in emergency, as well as having a responsible employee in charge of making all necessary communications.
Insurance: It is absolutely vital for all business owners to protect their livelihoods with the correct insurance. While this won’t prevent a natural disaster, having insurance will make it much easier to recoup lost earnings, make repairs and replacements, and get back on their feet. Business owners should think about premises and contents insurance, as well as business interruption cover, which will reimburse them for any loss of earnings while the enterprise recovers from being hit by a natural disaster. It is essential, however, for business owners to be aware of what they are covered for; some insurers may not include earthquakes or tornadoes in prone areas, for example.
Carrying out the correct property checks: The owner and senior manager have are responsible for ensuring that the business property is kept in a safe and sound condition. This typically involves carrying out regular checks on the building’s structure and internal fixtures, particularly in areas that are more prone to tornadoes or earthquakes. These checks will assess whether the premises would stand up to high winds or violent tremors, for example, and identify areas in which modernization may be required.
Developing a strategy: It is a good idea for all businesses to have a ‘Disaster Plan’; something that they can turn to in the event of a natural disaster. This will allow for better action to be taken prior to and during any events, as well as helping them to recover in the aftermath. Such a plan may include a list of responsible persons, whose role it would be to communicate information to employees; the protocol for alerting employees in the event of a natural disaster; an educational program to keep all staff aware of evacuation plans; back-up offices and premises, where work could continue in the event of a disaster, and customer details, if relevant, so that they may be notified in the eventuality of disruption to business. It is also essential that software back-ups are taken on a regular basis, ensuring that all sensitive and important data pertaining to the company is kept up to date, and can be retrieved easily should the worst happen.
Forward thinking: Business owners should ensure that that all plans and protocols are kept up to date; times change, as do the ways in which business are run. It is therefore essential that the procedures for keeping premises, employees, information, and equipment safe are maintained at all times, and that insurance is regularly renewed.
Picking up the pieces
Despite business owners’ best efforts, the destruction caused by many natural disasters is still, in some cases, unavoidable. One of the most important things to do following any disaster is to inspect the damage to ascertain what needs immediate attention and repair, as well as claiming insurance and seeking compensation in order to fund the costly clean up.
Business premises should first be secured; anything that has been damaged beyond repair will need to be replaced, while other fixtures and fittings may simply require patching up. It is only once a business owner is certain that the property is safe to return to that the clean up can begin. This will involve salvaging whatever furnishings, fixtures, equipment, and stock can be used again, sanitizing, and relabeling everything before it is put back. In this instance, it is important for business owners to be aware of the regulations regarding what can and can’t be re-used following a natural disaster; certain perishables, for example, must be discarded, while some materials and items damaged by floodwater or impaired by debris or the elements, should not be salvaged. Carpets, which frequently bear the brunt of natural disasters, should be replaced or significantly improved. Floods such as the recent water damage in Toronto can be particularly problematic, and should be dealt with effectively. This may include water extraction, odor control, and mold removal.
Once the clean up has taken place, business owners can look to refurbishment, returning premises to a safe and comfortable environment for all employees and customers. This can often be a chance to make timely improvements to a property’s structure or décor, as well as allowing owners to consider how their businesses may be better protected against future natural disasters. Following any devastating event, it is essential to learn from any mistakes; this will allow businesses to look to the future with plans firmly in place.
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