Clean sweep: Planning for disaster

Home Columns Clean sweep: Planning for disaster

by Patricia Harman

Too often business owners take adequate steps to protect their customers against identify theft, theft of belongings or damage of property, but few take simple precautions for their own protection. Hurricane season is just around the corner, and this is a good time to take a few simple steps to make sure your business is prepared in case a disaster of any type strikes, be it fire, flood or other peril.

Pre-disaster checklist

  1. Make sure to have adequate insurance coverage— flood, business interruption, bailees, inland marine (this is not related to boats), business personal property and the like.
  2. Back up computers regularly and take the backups off site. Use an offsite service to store the information. If the building catches fire and your backups go up in flames with the computers, you’ve lost your records.
  3. Inspect every area of your business and assess vulnerability to water. Water is almost always a factor in disasters whether from fire suppression, roof damage, plumbing failures, chemical spills or earth tremors, even when the damage originates on a higher floor.
  4. Nothing but furniture and durable equipment should be stored directly on the floor. Paper records are instant casualties.
  5. Desk and table tops are vulnerable to water from sprinklers or runoff from higher floors. Make sure papers are put away in desk drawers or filing cabinets at night.
  6. Take photos of each area of your home or business, save them to a CD and print hard copies. Store off site in a safety deposit box or other secure location. This provides a digital inventory prior to damage.
  7. Businesses should maintain a moderate stock of emergency supplies. A few dozen plastic tarps, a couple of wet-vacuums with wands and floor attachments, and a few floor squeegees provide a primary level of protection at a moderate cost. The ability to quickly place tarps over computers, filing cabinets, critical components and equipment can dramatically curtail damage.
  8. Securely store two full sets of building plans off site, particularly the “as-builts,” the final site plans that incorporate construction changes. Build-out plans, electrical and HVAC diagrams are a substitute in tenant-occupied spaces. Copies of the plans will be required by contractors and subs if physical repairs or reconstruction is to start promptly.
  9. Identify several qualified emergency service firms in your area and take the time to pre-qualify them ahead of time. After identifying a firm you feel comfortable with, informally work through a hypothetical situation with their project manager, starting with the initial phone call. Allow them to walk through your building to identify any areas of vulnerability.
  10. Identify and establish a preliminary relationship with a commercial real estate agent for space if temporary relocation is required.
  11. Know where your key insurance policies and other critical papers are located. Consider keeping them in a fire-proof safe or box.

Good preparation, immediate action and quick response to pre- vent further damage can improve a company’s downtime and return the business to operation more quickly. Most insurance policies require the policyholder to mitigate or prevent additional damage to a structure. Mold can begin to form in a “friendly” environment in about 48 hours, so drying out a structure and alleviating moisture from spreading are crucial.

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