When a disaster hits a community it can be devastating. For business owners, it can be a doubly difficult. At the same time they are facing the loss of their property and ensuring the safety of their families during the crisis, they also face another set of decisions that affect anyone involved in the business, as well as its customers and community. Feeling responsible for so many other individuals adds another layer of anxiety for business owners at an already stressful time.

This information will help business owners make decisions about the future of their company. The SBDC and University of Missouri Extension’s Business Development Program can assist in many ways, particularly in partnership with area lenders, technology experts, state departments and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Download our Disaster Recovery Guide for Small Businesses.

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    Where to begin

    As you begin to rebuild your life and your business following a disaster, knowing where to start can be extremely difficult. Here are some steps that can help you decide where to begin.

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      Obtain a working phone line. You need a way to receive calls and reach out to family, friends and customers. If you have access to a cell phone, get your business number forwarded to the cell number. Having a way to connect via phone will also help with the natural feelings of isolation you may feel following a disaster.

      If your business location was involved in the disaster, you may have lost computer equipment and the ability to connect via the Internet and email. One immediate way to handle this is to ensure that you can receive email and have web access through your phone. Or find a local business center with Internet access. During many recent disasters, the most up-to-date information has been available through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

      As you begin to clean, repair and rebuild, hook up a television so you have some sense of connection to the outside world. At the very least, listen to a radio so you can hear the latest updates on weather, the community and local assistance efforts.

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      Break the task down

      Attempting to do everything at once will feel overwhelming. As you stand in a damaged store or factory, the amount of work before you can easily make you feel powerless and defeated. Start by breaking the work down into manageable chunks. Each completed task will give you confidence and strength for the next chore. Start with smaller, more realistic steps, and build on that, applauding yourself each time you complete a task. Before you know it, you will have accomplished a great deal.

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      Reach out and communicate

      In the case of suppliers, remember that it's in their best interest to get you back in business as soon as possible, so they will be willing to assist. Place orders for replacement merchandise and materials. Request replacement displays and promotional materials. And talk about payments; don't avoid the issue. Confront the situation, and be forthcoming about what you need and what you can do, particularly since you will likely have insurance claims pending. The key is to communicate. Most suppliers can deal with any circumstance as long as they know up front what to expect.

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      Deal with finances

      It may be the last thing you want to think about immediately following a disaster, but you need to face it head-on. Cash flow is going to be a big issue, particularly in the short term. Make the call to your bank and anywhere you have credit, and let them know what has happened. Most of the time they will be incredibly supportive by deferring repayments. Regardless of whether you need this right now or not, it is good to know that you have it available. If you take credit cards in your business, obtain a manual machine so you can immediately process credit card payments. You may experience power outages as you rebuild, and down time can mean lost sales.

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      Talk to the IRS

      Taxes may be the last thing on your mind, but the IRS can be a very good source of assistance and support. They may even relieve some of your financial worries by arranging for a revised tax payment plan in light of your situation. Since you have many other financial considerations now, particularly the cost of rebuilding, handling creditors and paying suppliers, removing the tax worry can make other decisions much more manageable. Sure, you will eventually need to pay, but in the most disruptive time of the crisis when you are just trying to get the doors open again, having dealt with the tax issue can give you some breathing room.

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      Keep your staff informed

      With a business closed and no money coming in, employees can become understandably anxious about their income and the future of their job. This is the time to be completely honest with them as soon as you can. In many cases, employees with full information will dive in to help you in ways you may not have expected. Frequently, government assistance agencies will provide some funding for salaries during a rebuilding period. Check with your local relief organizations to see what is available.

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      Take photos and keep records

      Our natural inclination when confronted with the mess and destruction after a storm is just to bulldoze it all away. However, it's important to record the damage done to the facility and to your inventory. Your insurance carrier may require evidence of the destruction. Keep a journal of what you find, what is damaged and how badly, what you discard and when. Keep a few examples of badly damaged items to show your adjuster the extent and severity of the destruction.

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      Take care of yourself

      Remember that your physical and emotional defenses are down. You are under extreme emotional distress, and you are working long hours to get the business re-established. You are in a marathon now, and you must do all you can to avoid illness and injury. Drink lots of water, eat as well as you can and, although you will not want to or feel that you should, rest and sleep as often as you can.

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      Talk to your customers

      As soon as you are back in business, even to a limited extent, let your customers know. Your customers will want to support you, so let them know your status. This is when you can take advantage of electronic means of communication, including social media. Set up a Facebook page or Twitter feed and announce that you are open for business. It's a no-cost, effective way of getting the word out. Encourage everyone to tell others about your progress.

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      Try to find the upside and see the opportunity

      As hard as it is, try to see the opportunity in the situation, which is a chance to evaluate your business and rebuild with any changes you'd like to make. Perhaps you can fix some things you've never had time to address before. It's a time to re-evaluate your goals and dreams. And it's a time to be grateful for what remains. Your attitude can do a great deal to lift up your company, your employees and your community.

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    Avoiding scams

    While there are always many well-meaning individuals, groups and businesses that want to assist families, companies and communities following a disaster, there are also those who want to prey on people who have just been through a major disaster with illegitimate get-rich quick schemes.

    First rule of thumb: If you suspect anyone of fraudulent activities, call the Missouri Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office at 800-392-8222 or call your local law enforcement agency.

    • FEMA does not charge fees to apply for assistance or to receive it.
    • Neither FEMA nor the SBA charges for property damage inspections.
    • FEMA does not ask for your Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information.
    • Government workers will never ask you for a fee or payment of any kind. Look for photos IDs. Be wary of anyone who says he represents a governmental agency and asks for money.
    • If you're unsure about the authenticity of a FEMA or SBA representative, call the FEMA disaster assistance hotline at 800-621-FEMA (3362).
    • Do not be pressured into contracting or donating by anyone. Reputable organizations will honor your request to take time in making a decision.
    • Guard your Social Security number, account numbers, PINs and other personal information carefully. Identity theft can be a serious problem in the midst of the confusion following a disaster.

    Arraging for repairs

    • Do not allow a contractor, utility company or inspector onto your property without verifying their identity.
    • Be wary of anyone who promises you he can speed up the clean-up, repair, insurance, building permit or disaster assistance process.
    • Be wary of anyone going door to door through a disaster area in an unmarked vehicle.
    • To avoid price gouging, get three written estimates for repair work. If you have any doubts about the credibility of the contractor with whom you are dealing, call the local Better Business Bureau or chamber of commerce.
    • Ask for references, and call them.
    • Ask for proof of insurance, such as liability or worker's compensation.
    • Be cautious of contractors who claim to be state or FEMA certified. Neither the state nor FEMA certifies or endorses contractors.
    • Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, the costs, a projected completion date and how to negotiate changes and settle disputes. Do not make your final payment until all of the work is completed to your satisfaction.
      • It may take a bit longer for your insurance carrier to settle your claim after a major disaster. If you have questions, call the Missouri Department of Insurance at 573-751-4126 or the department's insurance consumer hotline at 800-726-7390.
      • Make sure the contract clearly states who will obtain the necessary permits. Consider having a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract.
      • If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly, stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
      • Pay only by check or credit card. A reasonable down payment (no more than one-third of the total cost) may be required to buy materials for some projects, but don't pay anything without a signed contract.

    Donations to charities

    Use caution when approached for donations to relief organizations. Only contribute to those groups willing to provide written information about their activities.

    • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the organization — not the individual.
    • Do not respond to telemarketer requests for donations.
    • If in doubt, contact the organization soliciting the donation, and ask if the person with whom you spoke is truly an employee or volunteer.

    GuideStar is a great resource for checking into the legitimacy of a non-profit organization.

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    Effective employee communication in times of crisis

    When disaster strikes, business owners often focus initially on communicating externally by contacting customers, suppliers, creditors and partners. And that is very important.

    But in the midst of the panic and confusion that often follow a disaster affecting your business, don't forget to reach "in" to your employees. Regardless of your company's size, the best strategy is to be prepared and have a clear process for internal communication in place before disaster hits your business.

    Keep in mind that employees whose livelihoods depend on your company will feel particularly vulnerable when that business is damaged or, in the worst case scenario, closed completely for any length of time. As everyone attempts to figure out what to do next, rumors can arise causing even more emotional distress and pressure. This is the time you need to reinforce trust, candor and morale among your team. Communicating frequently and clearly about what is going on with the business is the best way to do that.

    Having a post-event communications plan in place is the best way to ensure you are prepared for any eventuality. You need to decide who is going to communicate on behalf of the company to both external and internal audiences. This "one voice" policy will ensure that messages are consistent. Employees, customers, suppliers, partners and the media need to know that one person will have the latest and most accurate information, and they need to be able to reach that individual at any time.

    Communication to both audiences should be more frequent than usual during this delicate time, but communication of relocations, changes in hours, closures and other adjustments should always be provided to employees first. You do not want them to hear news about your business in the media; they need to hear it from you. Be patient with questions, even if they seem inconsequential and too numerous to you at the time.

    Without fail, be honest with your employees about everything. If the news is bad, deliver it quickly and clearly and make yourself available to help employees deal with the ramifications. Let employees know what the company will need to do to survive the crisis. If closure is inevitable, explain clearly why. Be prepared to answer questions about outplacement and severance packages as well as to handle the emotions that may accompany such news. If the company is responsible for any harm that befalls employees or their family, communicate your regret and empathy first. Then be prepared to discuss the steps you are taking to address the situation when the employee is ready.

    Whenever possible, use face-to-face communication, but if that is not possible, use the method with which your various audiences are most familiar. If your employees are accustomed to phone, email or text messages, rely on those during crisis times as well. Make communications with creditors, suppliers, customers, employees and the community as personal as time and resources permit. Although not the most personal medium for communication, Facebook has recently proven to be extremely effective in communicating with large audiences in an extremely timely manner.

    Be sure to give employees more than ample opportunity to offer feedback, assistance and suggestions during a post-disaster period. When it feels as if everything else is out of their control, the ability to be involved in recovery and to offer personal and professional help is vitally important.

    There are other advantages to providing opportunities for employees to give feedback. If offers an opportunity for management to ensure that messages have reached employees, and to hear how employees are feeling, how they are recovering and what opinions and attitudes they hold about the company's recovery. In addition, feedback from employees provides critical information that management may not have from any other source about the community's recovery and plans to mitigate future disasters.

    When a crisis hits your business, you need to use every listening post you can to keep up on what your community and region are doing, what your customers are doing and saying and what your employees need to recover and remain engaged with your rebuilding activities.

    If your company does not have a crisis communication plan, develop one. If necessary, engage the services of a communications consultant. It will be money well-spent when disaster strikes.

    A disaster can present opportunities to re-evaluate the company and re-energize your employees in new directions. Such instances can provide you the time and conditions you need to make changes that you have been postponing. Having a solid crisis communication plan in place will ensure that you can capitalize on those opportunities and waste no time in getting back to business

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    Helping your employees through a crisis

    The first hours after disaster strikes your business are critical for its recovery. Everyone with any connection to your firm will look to you for guidance, direction and hope. How you respond will send powerful messages to your stakeholders, customers and employees. The correct response can mark a turning point for your company. However, if handled poorly, the incident can create mistrust, confusion, lower productivity and ultimately reduced financial performance

    It's important to remember that a business disaster is not just about dollars and cents or profit and loss. It is also about the human capital invested in the company. Your employees make up your business. They are your most important asset, so you will want to ensure that you respond appropriately with both competence and compassion. You will need to display your concern for the personal tragedy in the disaster at the same time you help employees, customers and other stakeholders begin to put the next steps in place. You must create structure out of the chaos and confusion.

    Unfortunately, an occasional outcome of a business disaster is a blaming mentality. Employees and other stakeholders may hold leadership accountable for problems resulting from the crisis whether they should be held accountable or not. At this time, it's important to remember the very human reactions that a disaster can elicit.

    People who have experienced a severe trauma often fall back on rather primitive and emotional defenses. They will seek to find safety and feel secure. They may not be logical, and longer-range thinking is set aside. Decisions are often less rational and more emotional.

    Because they have experienced a complete lack of control over their circumstances, many people who have lived through a catastrophe will attempt to make sense of it so they feel as though they retain some control. In this way, they believe they can prevent it from happening again. They will seek to find an answer to the question of why the disaster occurred and why to them. In the absence of fact, many people will create the answers to those questions, which often lack objectivity.

    In addition, people impacted by such tragedies will often withdraw from others as a result of distrust. Your employees may pull away out of fear and uncertainty. You will need to reach out proactively in some cases to ensure that employees remain engaged in your company and its rebuilding.

    Here are some steps you can take to help your employees through a difficult time:

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      Discuss the disaster openly

      • Acknowledge that it happened and that it was, indeed, catastrophic.
      • Be sure you know the facts of the situation in terms of what happened and what will happen next. But don't theorize. Only report the facts as you know them.
      • Speak frankly. Avoid euphemisms. Tell it like it is. If someone died, you need to discuss it.
      • State that you know the tragedy has an impact on everyone, that everyone will experience it differently and that it will take individuals varying lengths of time to recover.
      • Share your story. If you are personally touched by the disaster, speak openly about it.
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      Demonstrate caring leadership

      It is important at a time like this to demonstrate to your employees that you are a human being with feelings and emotions just like theirs. But you also need to demonstrate leadership and competence to handle the situation so that employees feel they are in good hands as they work through the disaster.

      If you need the help of a consultant, mental health professional or someone with expertise in helping people through disasters, find it and employ it. The time and money you spend will be more than worth it in employee loyalty and your firm's recovery.

      Develop a crisis response plan that includes caring for your employees both personally and professionally. Being prepared is the best response.

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      Help through the transition

      To the extent you can be truthful, reassure employees that you and they will get through this. Do what you can to help your employees start to think like survivors and less like victims.

      While employees should not be expected to immediately function like they did before the crisis, they will recover more quickly if given specific, manageable tasks. Their recovery will be a process, and it is important to have reasonable patience with this as they return to work and their usual level of productivity.

      Be very proactive in your leadership. Be present. Be reliable. Be accessible. Be realistic.

      While every employee is different, and some will require more time to adjust than others, don't allow long periods of time away from work to continue beyond a reasonable period. The best way to overcome these tragic situations is to face them and re-engage as soon as possible.

      If employees need personal help of an emotional nature, help them find the resources they need.

      The way a business owner or manager handles a disaster in the early hours following the event as well as the weeks and months beyond will write the story of the company's recovery. Be sure your story has a good ending.

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    Recovering from the physical damage to your business

    If your facility is damaged in a disaster, you should first make a thorough assessment of its physical condition to determine the extent of the damage, the potential time and cost for reconstruction and whether or not the facility is safe to re-enter. Based on the circumstances of the disaster and the building's condition, access to the facility for purposes of assessment may have to be delayed for several days. Do not rush the process. The facility may be unsafe from a structural integrity perspective, or there may be toxic substances, electrical hazards, standing water and other safety concerns.

    As part of your disaster preparedness planning, you should create a delayed access strategy that will guide your actions immediately post-disaster if you are not able to enter or utilize your facility. Meet with your local emergency management authorities and fire department to discuss what areas are most crucial to business recovery in the event of a disaster. This will allow them to work with you most efficiently immediately following an incident. In addition, identify a trained professional or agency authorized to enter your facility to make an immediate assessment to obtain at least a partial condition report for employees and the local authorities. Provide the authorized agency or vendor with the necessary legal, financial and insurance information to help you execute your business continuity plan.

    Your insurance company will require extensive documentation regarding your losses. Ask your agent about the carrier's policy regarding emergency remediation, including what evidence is required, time to settlement and other factors that may impact how you respond after the disaster.

    Once your facility is safe to enter, you should immediately begin your mitigation efforts. Removal of standing water, facility dehumidification, corrosion control and smoke removal are crucial in keeping your losses at a minimum. Have an experienced technician inspect and test all electronic equipment to ensure it still meets operating specifications.

    For example, if equipment has suffered heat damage beyond the manufacturer's specifications, it normally cannot be restored or re-certified. However, if equipment has only exposed to smoke from the fire for a relatively short time, there may be very little damage, except for the corrosive components of the particulate. If this equipment remains in a moist, humid environment, severe corrosion can occur within 48 to 72 hours. Proper testing, performed by your pre-qualified specialists, must be done as quickly as possible. Remove surface contaminants and apply corrosion inhibitors. These procedures can buy you the time you need to make the necessary "replace or restore" decisions.

    Water and fire can affect a building's safety and serviceability. If you are uncertain about your facility, contact a structural engineer to assess the building and provide recommendations to stabilize it. In the case of hazardous material contamination, OSHA regulations may require special protective clothing and equipment as well as training and certifications to enter a contaminated building. If you have concerns about hazardous materials in your damaged facility, an OSHA-certified specialist can assist in assessing the situation and providing recommendations.

    It may also be necessary to determine whether there are other types of contamination as a result of fire and water.

    Heat and soot are also generated in fires, and areas of the building you assume may be unaffected directly from the fire can still suffer damage. The initial damage assessment should always address both indirect as well as direct fire-damaged areas. Contaminants in soot can condense on cool services. For instance, when heated, PVC pipe generates hydrogen chloride gas. This gas, when combined with water, forms hydrochloric acid, a very corrosive chemical. Other building materials can form sulfates and nitrates. A common cushion material, polyurethane foam, yields hydrogen cyanide when burned.

    Water can also carry contaminants. Those contaminants can end up deposited on circuit boards and other electronics. If you have a chilled water system, the glycol can also affect paper and magnetic media. Water should be analyzed before it's used for cleaning or certainly for consumption.

    Most communities have a process for disposing of hazardous materials as part of their public works organization. Contact that office for recommendations to remove contaminants such as flammable liquids and corrosives.

    One of the most common hazards is the mold and mildew resulting from long-term humid conditions or water damage. Mold and mildew affect the structure, the HVAC systems, documents, equipment and the people occupying the facility. Your facility should be assessed by a certified industrial hygienist, and the HVAC system must be thoroughly cleaned before anyone occupies the building. While cleaning systems have improved, you may still need to replace the ductwork, depending on the extent of the damage.

    Since it's quite possible you'll lose power during or after a storm, knowing how to safeguard what's in your refrigerator and freezer might just save your food business.

    In general, try to keep food at or below 41 F. Keep frozen food frozen. And keep hot cooked food at 140 F or above.

    Food in refrigerators should be safe as long as the power is out no more than about four to six hours. A full freezer should keep food safe about two days; a half full one, about one day. Leave the door to both closed. Each time you open it, cold air escapes, causing the food inside to reach unsafe temperatures.

    And when in doubt, throw it out!

    Following these tips before, during and immediately after a power outage can help protect consumers and minimize product loss.

    • Note the time the outage begins.
    • Discontinue all cooking operations.
    • Don't put any hot food in the refrigerator or freezer. Doing so will rapidly raise the temperature inside the refrigerator or freezer and may make even more food unusable.
    • Discard anything in the process of being cooked, but which have not yet reached the final cooking temperature.
    • Maintain these hot, potentially hazardous food at 140 F or above using canned heat or other heating devices in a chafing dish.
    • Use ice or ice baths to rapidly cool small batches of hot food.
    • Discard any potentially hazardous food that has been above 41 F for four hours or more, reached a temperature of 45 F or higher for any length of time or has an unusual color, odor or texture.
    • Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. You can safely re-freeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals and are at 41 F or less.
      • Note: Using dry ice may result in an unsafe build-up of carbon dioxide.

    If it appears the power will be off for more than six hours, use ice, dry ice or frozen gel packs to keep potentially hazardous foods at 41 or below. Moving refrigerated food to a walk-in freezer or obtaining a refrigerated truck are other good options. Don't transfer food to a private home, even your own. Doing so could open the door to devastating lawsuits. Never taste food to determine its safety! You can't rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.

    This guide from can help you determine which specific foods to keep and which to discard.

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    Remediation and reconstruction; returning to normal

    Once you and your employees have survived the immediate danger of damage to your facility, you can begin the incredibly hard work of remediation and reconstruction. Depending on the type of incident you have experienced, you may need to have law enforcement officials investigate the cause and origin of the destruction, particularly in the case of a suspicious fire or vandalism.

    Your first call should be to your insurance carrier, who will assign an adjuster to your project. Then call a construction management firm that is experienced in disaster recovery. They will form your team for reconstruction, freeing you and your employees from the burden of restoring the premises at the same time you are attempting to conduct business.

    The first stages of remediation are to eliminate and control hazards, prevent further damage to the building and ensure that any part of your facility that can be reopened is available and safe. For the financial health of your business and your employees, reopen as soon as you possibly can. Overtime costs to prepare a short-term workable space can be paid by your insurance.

    Eliminating hazards may involve temporary fixes, so be sure you are working with contractors familiar with such measures. Electricians will be needed to "safe off" all exposed wires and conduits, isolate the damaged circuits and restore power where possible. General construction contractors should remove partially burned and unsafe doors, roofs, canopies or ceilings that could collapse on future reconstruction or investigation crews. Because structural integrity may have been compromised, additional damage can sometimes occur as you begin clean-up and removal of debris or ruined equipment. Check the roof for leaks, and check all windows, skylights and doorways carefully. Board them up if necessary.

    As you return your facility to a useable state, keep the safety and comfort of your employees and customers forefront in your mind. For instance, it is not reasonable to ask people to work in areas that are still water soaked, moldy or smoke-damaged. Clean all walls, counters, furniture, floors and ceilings. And you may have to seal some surfaces with smoke-sealing primer or install a negative air pressure system in any area damaged by fire to prevent smoke fumes from infiltrating into the useable areas.

    During reconstruction, the goal is to have a facility that matches — at the very minimum — the original building. This requires planning as well as actual implementation of the fixes.

    First, you must establish your scope of work and have it approved by those performing the work and paying the bills. Consider that some damage may not be immediately visible to the naked eye. Insulation and wiring may require replacement for instance. You may need the services of a licensed architect. The insurance carrier will need to approve the budget before any detailed construction documents are begun. You may need a construction engineer to ensure building safety, and the insurance should pay those professional fees as well.

    In addition to replacing damaged items, the insurance coverage you hold may allow you to make upgrades for building code compliance or other regulations. See if your carrier will provide you an advance on your settlement so that work can begin in a timely manner.

    Your contractor should provide performance and payment bonds and provide appropriate insurance. Specify working hours and deadlines in your contract. Hold frequent meetings with all involved parties to discuss progress, change orders, schedules and payment. As the project begins to conclude, ensure that all punch list items are completed and that you have obtained all warranties and certifications from the contractors.

    While recovering from a disaster can be a difficult period for a small business, it can also be a time to make needed improvements and ensure you are better prepared for future challenges.

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    Making a plan to survive a business disaster

    Only about 30 percent of businesses have a disaster recovery plan. But it's not because they don't think it's important. In most cases it's because they simply don't know where to start to prepare.

    One of the most critical reasons for developing a business continuity plan, aside from the obvious reasons to protect people and property, is to ensure your business data is available post-disaster. The last thing you need to deal with immediately following a catastrophic incident is the awareness that your valuable business data is gone forever.

    This data might include customer information, email correspondence, financial records, sales and shipping records and insurance information. You could lose contact information for all of your vendors, clients and employees. Production facilities could lose drawings and product specifications as well as quality and product tracking records.

    HR information would be at risk, as well as any manuals, books, policies and procedures you have created. The list is endless. Anything you store in hard copy or electronic form can be wiped away in an instant.

    And while you think that the risk of your business being affected by a natural disaster is rare, keep in mind many other occurrences can put your company at risk. Losses may occur as a result of human error, computer viruses or server failures. A fire or water and smoke damage can claim irreplaceable records. Employee theft could take valuable intellectual property and confidential records out the door.

    Developing a plan can seem overwhelming, but here are some basic questions to help get you started.

    • What types of disaster might we experience?
    • What parts of our business need to be operational first following a shutdown?
    • Do we have a plan for relocation? Where could we go, and for how long?
    • What are our employees' roles in disaster recovery?
    • How will we communicate with one another if phone and email are not available?
    • What kinds of agreements do we have with our computer and internet providers?
    • Will our current business insurance cover our needs following a disaster, or do we need to update our coverage?
    • How can we finance our recovery expenses? Do we have our financial records backed up off-site so that we can have the information we need to apply for additional financing?
    • What process do we have for backing up current information? Do we need another server off-site? How often should we back up our information?
    • How will we handle telephone calls if our site is disabled?
    • How will we track orders if our system is down?

    Obviously there are varying levels of disaster. A server crash, while highly inconvenient and especially damaging if your information is not backed up, is a devastating blow. It's not quite the same as losing a facility, inventory or worse, people, however. A well-developed disaster plan should have varying response actions for varying levels of events.

    The following is a list of critical disaster recovery preparations you can do now without much planning. These will ensure that should the worst happen even tomorrow, you are prepared with a minimal response that will keep your doors open.

    • Make a back-up of all of your files, programs, email messages, websites, databases and contacts immediately.
      • Back up all laptops as well, even those that are with off-site employees.
      • Move all of your back-up data to an off-site location.
      • Make plans now to back up all of your information at the very least weekly. Daily is better.
      • Keep back-up hardware off-site if you can. Even a few desktop and laptop computers that you can get to in an emergency will make business restoration easier.
    • Keep a record of all of your operating systems and applications, including version numbers, license numbers and configuration details, and how to run those programs and applications in an emergency. Make a copy and store it off-site.
    • Ensure that more than one person knows the whereabouts of your back-up data and how to access it.
    • Ask your IT vendors about their response plan in the event of a disaster.
    • Create a disaster manual that provides instructions regarding where you can establish an alternate location and from whom you can get equipment and supplies. Include all of the contact information for employees, suppliers, insurance agents, emergency management personnel, and telephone and Internet providers.