Recent events in Japan have caught businesses off guard and started whole nations thinking about how they’d handle a crisis. It doesn’t have to be a tsunami or an earthquake either. Any number of man-made and natural disasters can disrupt a company’s supply chain, hinder methods of transportation, cripple communications, and wreak havoc with employees.

Small Business Crisis Planning

There may be too many potential threats to plan for exhaustively, but there are still some basic things small businesses can do.

Protect your data. If all of your records reside on your office computers, you’re vulnerable. Create online backups and maintain them diligently. If your equipment is damaged or lost completely, you’ll still have access to vital information. Consider virtual solutions for data storage and even basic functionality, and know where those online servers are located.

Have a way to communicate with your people. Just having a list of phone numbers for your employees may not cut it in an emergency. Since you can’t rely on any single resource or method of communication, take a broad based approach. Get multiple numbers and addresses. Be on the lookout for web based options, too. The emergency in Japan will almost certainly lead to apps designed to keep people connected during tough times. Put communication on top of your list of things to stay current with.

Keep your customers in the loop. Regional disasters may not make the news everywhere, so don’t assume that your customers will realize what’s happening with your company. It’s important to be able to disseminate information to customers as well as keep track of your employees. In this, cyberspace is your friend. Use your website and social media outlets to create a communications network for your present and future needs.

Cross train your staff. Expect an emergency to leave you shorthanded. You should also plan for the absence of key personnel. That means providing the people who are left with the means to perform essential tasks. You know your business, so you know what those functions are.

Have a fall back plan in place. Devise a damage control strategy for doing everything from locking down your facility in a weather emergency to obtaining essential materials. What types of failures will leave you dead in the water? Is there a workaround you can put in place now? What types of emergencies are the most likely for your geographical location? Are there published guidelines you can familiarize yourself with today for things like hurricane and earthquake preparedness?

Be flexible. Because you can’t know the future, it’s important to have resources and procedures that are flexible enough to adapt to the limitations imposed by a crisis. Are your manufacturing processes so rigid that trying to work around them is a disaster in itself? Now is the time to look at your business from an “adapt or die” perspective. You don’t know how long you may have to work lean and create solutions on the fly. Be wary of anything that makes that difficult or impossible to do.

The best way to prepare for a crisis is to start thinking about the vulnerabilities in your small business and come up with ways to address them. You won’t be able to bulletproof everything, but you will be able to shore up key areas.

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