Disaster Preparedness: Tips For Your Startup

As published on Forbes.com

For a startup owner or busy entrepreneur, it’s easy to focus on growing the business and postpone planning for business disruptions – or even worse, disasters – until “things are caught up.” According to the 2013 Small Business Disaster Survey, 74% of small business owners don’t have a disaster recovery plan for their business, 84% don’t have natural disaster insurance and 71% do not have a back-up generator. The same survey found that 76% of respondents had never been affected by a natural disaster-and perhaps that’s the root of the problem. Unfortunately, the likelihood of your business being impacted by a major natural weather event is increasing:

  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the number of major weather events (those that inflict at least $1 billion in damage) has risen from an average of two per year in the 1980s to more than 10 per year since 2010.
  • Per a 2011 study by security firm Symantec, 65% of U.S. businesses are located in areas affected by natural disasters.
  • Many data centers are also located in disaster-prone areas, as pointed out in a2013 article by GigaOm.

You can take these statistics with a grain of salt, or you can take precautions. If you opt for the latter course, you’ll have great resources available to help your company prepare for the possible impact of a hurricane, tornado or other extreme event. Your planning doesn’t have to be extensive and many preparatory activities don’t require any precious capital outlay. The following are some tips, based on my own experience and those of experts with whom I have spoken, to help you in the process of preparing.

  • Prepare for power outages: In the Small Business Disaster Survey cited earlier, 62% of small businesses indicated they could run their business from a mobile device. That works well until the power is out for 10 days. Installing even a small generator enables you to charge mobile devices, keep Internet connections operating (assuming your Internet provider is still sending a signal) and otherwise stay afloat. You don’t have to purchase a generator, either. Many companies offer generator rentals and you can usually deduct these as operating expenses the year you incur them. My company offers tips on selecting a standby generator, including considerations for renting, on its website.
  • Reduce risk of data loss: If you plan to rely on automated, redundant server backups, consider how you will access that information and whether it will be safe. When your data center operator promises redundancy, is he talking about two server racks next to each other, or does he offer true geographic redundancy? Does that redundancy include delivering your data and services from the redundant location, or is it intended for backup recovery only?
  • Delegate tasks to your team: Do you have a clear chain of command for which employees would do what? Not only should specific employees be assigned to perform required tasks, but you should assign alternates, as well. In the face of a disaster, you cannot anticipate that certain employees will be able to reach you. If one employee works a distance from your office, consider covering a cost for a standby generator at that location, as well, in case your office ends up at the epicenter of an event.
  • Create a basic recovery plan: Have you created a basic disaster recovery outline that indicates what activities are essential and which are not? Have you considered whether your vendors may be at risk? FEMA offers an excellent planning resource for free. There’s even a self-directed exercise for evaluating and testing the efficiency of your plan using scenarios from ice storms and blackouts to hurricanes. If you prefer templates, the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) offers an online library. But don’t go crazy. Plan for the number of scenarios you can manage. The IBHS offers a “risk identifier” tool that tells you what events your zip code might face.

At the end of the day, creating a simple plan with considerations for such necessities as power, key employees, and data continuity are far more important than a 400-page document that no one remembers when disaster actually hits. As a final note, don’t forget to share the elements of your basic plan with everyone. Tell as many people as possible where vital documents are stored and ensure most personnel can perform core functions (keep them as simple as possible). In the event of a disaster, you never know who your shining star will be.

Courtesy of YEC

Will PerryWill Perry founded Worldwide Power Products (WPP ) in 2008, establishing a power generation supply footprint worldwide and leading WPP to be named one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 MostPromising Companies. In 2012, the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) named Perry Houston’s Entrepreneur of the Year and the Houston Business Journal named him one of Houston’s 40 under 40.

Courtesy of YEC

YEC The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.