Even by Australia’s standards for extreme weather, the start of 2011 has been extraordinary. In the space of just a few weeks, Brisbane’s CBD was submerged, regional Queensland was lashed by cyclonic activity, rural Victoria was drenched and Perth was hit by bushfires.
The federal government has announced that there will be a levy to pay for the damage to infrastructure and a Gold Coast funds manager has pledged to raise $500 million for cyclone-hit small businesses in Queensland.
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However, many small firms will fail to recover from the damage and its knock-on effects. Those that survive will have to make sure they properly plan to ensure a future disaster doesn’t wipe them out.
With this in mind, StartupSmart spoke to the experts to give you the top 10 tips for business disaster preparedness.
1. Get properly insured
Being uninsured, underinsured or having the wrong kind of insurance could force your business to close or even collapse in the event of a disaster. However, the right insurance can keep your losses to a manageable level, so it is vitally important you protect your business as best you can.
A professional insurance broker can help you make the right insurance choices by compiling a comprehensive and cost-effective package of insurance policies for your business. Many firms hit by the floods were insured, but, critically, didn’t have cover for loss of earnings.
If your business is classed as a high insurance risk, as is the case for those in flood and cyclone-prone areas, you should seek specialised advice. You can contact the National Insurance Brokers Association to find a broker.
2. Back up your systems
Businesses need to prioritise their internal data recovery and backup systems in case of an emergency, which can wipe out an organisation’s entire operation in one hit.
Simon Howe of IT firm Acronis says the Queensland floods highlighted how serious a data disruption can be for a business or website, particularly one that relies on eCommerce.
Howe says local recovery options are critical but businesses must also have some kind of backup measure located offsite.
“Often, devices with replication capabilities allow you to replicate IT systems or data on an identical box at home or offsite,” he says.
Howe says implementing disaster recovery strategies is potentially a one-day project, although businesses need to first assess their IT environment. He also encourages businesses to have an expert on hand to help out.
3. Think of your staff
In the wake of a disaster, business owners are often in doubt over their legal obligations towards staff who cannot come to work or whose jobs have been lost as a result of a natural event.
Kristin Duff, senior associate at Harmers Workplace Lawyers, says many employers don’t consider their legal obligations until it is too late. At this point, employees often become disgruntled over a sudden termination and make a claim.
“The claims that you’re looking at are typically around unfair dismissal because employers tend to seek advice after the fact. They should seek advice beforehand,” she says.
4. Have a risk management plan
When putting in place a risk management plan, it is important to take into account as many potential scenarios as possible. The plan also needs to be fully understood by all staff members.
Have a risk management expert review the premises, your financial procedures, any equipment and your client operations to identify any risks, risky behaviour or practices.
It’s also important to get staff involved to discuss any possible flaws in your practices and procedures.
Risks come in two forms – those that apply to every workplace or organisation, and risks that come from doing the particular work you do. All too often, risk management discussions are limited to financial risk, information security risk or reputational risk.
Any comprehensive risk management assessment should include risks to people and property caused by disasters. In the case of an emergency, you can mitigate the risk of death, injury and property damage by undergoing proper training and procuring the proper preparedness supplies.
5. Make your premises secure
Unfortunately, looting is common during natural disasters when business premises are largely left unattended.
If you operate a retail business you are an ideal target for looters, so you need to know how to protect your stock prior to a disaster.
The first thing to do is install a security alarm and display the alarm company’s logo so that potential perpetrators can see it. Not only will these measures serve as deterrents, looters are likely to flee the scene if an alarm is triggered.
Where appropriate, install security doors and windows. In the event of an emergency, try to move your stock into a secure storage area so that it is less visible. This may also limit the damage done.