Regional Qld small businesses brace for cyclone Ita: How to prepare for a natural disaster

Businesses in remote areas of regional upper north Queensland are bracing for cyclone Ita, expected to be more destructive than cyclone Larry which struck in 2006.

Winds up to 125km/h could hit towns between Cape Melville and Cape Tribulation as early as this afternoon, as cyclone Ita has now been upgraded to a category five storm.

Towns up to 200km away from the storm are likely to be buffeted by strong winds, but only 9000 people are likely to be directly in Ita’s path thanks to the remote nature of the region.

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting the storm poses a serious threat to residents of Cooktown, and Pitcher Partners business advisory partner Brett Headrick said businesses in Cooktown will have been preparing for the possible disaster for the past day or two.

“It’s a small town with a small population and these people are isolated with very few ways to get into these towns,” he says.

“There is only one road in and it’s not a great road, so getting supplies and restoring communication to the region could be difficult.”

Headrick says the biggest concern for businesses in Cooktown at this stage will be the safety of the staff and cash flow.

“Businesses need to ensure they have enough cash flow to continue to pay salaries of the staff and to support the short-term requirements of the business and the employees,” he says.

“How to get the business back up and running following a disaster depends on how big the damage is, but say you’re running the local IGA, they’re going to have to be making provisions for extra food supplies so they are able to reopen.”

Cooktown has a population of around 2400 people and is the largest of the towns in the region likely to be impacted.

Following cyclone Larry in 2006 there was over $1 billion worth of damage, including $550 million in economic damage.

Headrick says businesses in this region will likely have disaster recovery plans in place, as this location is prone to extreme weather.

“Crisis management plans can have a few different headings including how to deal with cash flow. Businesses need to consider not only how to pay salaries, but how to deal with the Australian Taxation Office and how to keep the business afloat,” he says.

“The plan also needs to address communication strategies. Employees need to be informed of the plan and know how you’ll communicate with them and what the expectations are in these situations.”

Headrick says other considerations include how to deal with contractual obligations with suppliers or customers, finding insurance documents and making sure copies are located in an offsite location and establishing a business continuation strategy if the premises is damaged.

“There is also a corporate social responsibility for all businesses in Queensland and the whole of Australia to support other businesses to recover after these crises,” he says.

“Cooktown will be well-organised, but you can’t always plan for a cyclone as big as this. The community needs to rally around each other.”

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