How prepared is your small business to withstand and recover from a flood, wildfire, earthquake, or severe windstorm?

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, severe weather events in Canada caused losses of $2.1 billion in 2021. From destructive wildfires and floods to tornadoes and hailstorms, the frequency and financial toll of extreme events are on the rise. Furthermore, 2021 ranks second in terms of the number of catastrophes to hit Canada in a single year, data from Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. shows. 

In terms of business interruption and the types of events that have affected Canadian businesses over the past five years, First Onsite’s 2021 survey found the pandemic caused 77% of them. However, 45% of interruptions were due to communications outages, 43% because of winter storms, 23% due to flooding, and 12% because of fires.

emergency preparedness

Minimizing the impact of a natural disaster on your small business involves taking several measures to endure and recover quickly from a catastrophic event while attempting to reduce the likelihood of injuries to your employees and customers and damages to your commercial property and inventory. These measures include creating a disaster recovery plan, identifying your business’s mission-critical operations, training employees on what to do in an emergency, and reviewing your company’s business insurance coverage.

May 1 to 7 is Canada’s annual Emergency Preparedness Week. The federal government’s national awareness initiative is designed to encourage Canadians to be prepared to face a range of emergencies such as natural disasters and unexpected storms. In the spirit of the initiative and to help you recover quickly from an unexpected disaster, here are seven emergency preparedness tips for small business owners to use:

1. Create a Disaster Recovery Plan

As a small business owner, you appreciate the necessity of thoughtful planning and strategizing. Apply the same approach to creating a disaster recovery plan for your business. Keep it simple and easy to follow. Do a risk assessment of the potential threats your business faces and outline the steps to be taken in different situations. For instance, have a list of actions if there’s a flood and another list if there’s a wildfire.

Detail what to do, who should do it, and how. Have contact information for all employees, business partners and providers, and emergency responders in your community. Identify another location to run your business if you need to vacate your commercial property temporarily. Once your plan is drafted, print three copies, and store them in secured locations elsewhere (a fireproof safe, your home, and at a business partner’s or trusted friend’s place). Maintain a digital copy stored in the cloud that you and your employees can access on mobile devices or laptops.

2. Identify Your Business’s Mission-Critical Operations

As part of your disaster recovery plan, you’ll need to detail your company’s mission-critical systems. Think about your computing systems, servers, and software, and what to do if your network goes down and you have no internet access. This likely means you’ll need network documentation, which is like a blueprint of your software, data, computing systems and hardware your company uses. Having network documentation will make restoring your network and critical systems faster, easier, and possibly cheaper.

Also, establish the ability to remotely access your network so you and your staff can continue to manage the business online from wherever you are. If you have an IT technician on your team or an independent IT consultant who services your business, ensure they have remote access and are included in your network documentation and overall disaster recovery plan.

3. Create a Communications Strategy

Communication is the most critical activity for informing employees, suppliers, and customers during a crisis. Draft a crisis communications plan as part of your disaster recovery strategy. Include an updated emergency contact list with every possible way of reaching each employee by phone, email, and social media. Think of how you’ll keep employees, customers, partners, and suppliers informed, for instance, by email or text messages.

If your company uses any social media networks like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, include them in your plan. Also, think about the messaging you need to have in place for communicating to employees, partners and suppliers, customers, and the public. Lastly, ensure your employees have access to the communications plan and understand what roles they have to play within it.

4. Train Your Employees on What to Do

Ensure your employees know about your disaster recovery plan and how to access it. Train them on what to do if you cannot be contacted and they need to execute the plan. Also, ensure there is a first-aid kit and emergency supplies, including water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, and other necessities, located at your place of business in case they need to shelter in place.

5. Backup and Store Your Data at an Offsite Location

Always backup your data regularly and consistently and maintain copies on different servers at a secured, offsite location and in the cloud. It’s wise to automate your data backups, so you don’t need to worry about doing it yourself every day. Moreover, ensure you have cyber insurance as part of your overall policy. It covers costs associated with cybercrime involving your technology systems and customer data.

6. Take Preventative Measures to Protect Your Property

Be proactive and take steps to protect your commercial property from the threat of fire, flood, and severe weather. For example, ensure you have a 24/7 monitored alarm system that includes fire and water detection, install storm shutters over windows, and secure any inventory you have stored outdoors to prevent them from becoming projectiles in a windstorm.

7. Test and Update Your Plan Annually

Don’t merely create a disaster recovery plan; test it at least annually and update it frequently. Run through different scenarios with your employees and partners to see how a disaster might play out. That way, you can identify holes in your plan that need to be addressed. Testing the plan will also help ensure your employees understand it and what they need to do in an emergency.

Additional Emergency Preparedness Resources for Small Businesses

Each province and territory have an emergency management organization that can provide you with information and resources for preparing for emergencies as well as disaster financial assistance programs:

Why All Small Businesses and Self-Employed Professionals Need Insurance

Among all the preparations and actions you take to prevent accidents and injuries at your workplace and to protect your commercial property from damages, the backbone of your company’s risk management strategy is a comprehensive business insurance policy. Small businesses and self-employed contractors are at particular risk as they often lack the resources to survive a catastrophic event. And when small businesses are unable to rebuild, the entire community suffers.

Make the most of Emergency Preparedness Week this year by strategizing and preparing your company and employees and be ready to deal with the impact of a natural disaster or extreme weather. 

It’s also wise to speak to a Zensurance licensed broker about your existing policy to ensure you’re adequately protected, or shop around for the policy you need at a better price, at least annually. We can help you do that. Fill out an online application to get a free quote and we’ll shop our network of more than 50 insurers to get you the coverage you need at the best price.

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