Being ready to implement my business disaster plan has become second nature to me, unfortunately. I’m an evacuee of Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, and sheltered in place in 2007 during Hurricane Humberto, in 2016 during the Toledo Bend Reservoir flood, and in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey. In 2020, we were hit with two hurricanes 6 weeks apart. First, there was Hurricane Laura in which we evacuated for almost two weeks due to power outages, and then six weeks later was Hurricane Delta, which wasn’t supposed to impact us at all but turned into a Category 1 hurricane in SE Texas and unexpectedly knocked out power for three days.
The hurricane evacuations were a hellish process, as was sheltering in place during Harvey and Delta. However, through it all, I emerged with very little damage to my home. Running from a hurricane and dealing with its landfall isn’t something I’ve ever had to do before, nor is it something I’d ever like to do again. Nor is seeing all of the surrounding land underwater, where the only viable transportation was by boat, similar to the canals in Venice, but much less scenic…<g>.
However, as a solo business owner, I’m quite thankful that I have an online business. The fact that I own a virtual company and can operate from anywhere that there’s electricity and phone service has been of great help during these disasters. It was a primary factor in helping me reopen my business a scant four days after the landfall of Hurricane Rita and within one day after Ike and Laura when so many brick-and-mortar businesses were still shuttered for months after the storm.
As an online business owner, what can you do to make your business disaster-proof? It seems that we have an increasing number of hurricanes making landfall in the coastal states, and add to that an increased number of other types of natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, ice storms, blizzards, etc. makes me think that there is no ideal location in which to operate a business.
1. Know the location of your vital papers. You should be able to quickly put into a folder the following for you and your family:
If you have documentation of your home contents, bring that information as well. In a disaster, you’ll be asked to prove where you live and that you are who you claim you are, especially when applying for disaster assistance. You may also have to initiate damage reports on your property, so having those files at your fingertips will help you expedite the process. Don’t count on this info being accessible in a safety deposit box. Your bank may be flooded, or you may not be able to access your bank because of power outages.
2. Have an online backup of all of your computer data. I back up my computer in two ways–to an external portable hard drive as well as to an online backup service. I use both because my files are my livelihood — I would be dead in the water without them — so I want to leave absolutely no room to lose my data. I back up both my desktop and laptop PCs with unlimited backup available through BackBlaze. Rather than having to lug my desktop PC with me, I can simply access any file on it through my online backup system.
3. Create a file with vital contact information. I keep all of my contact info stored on both my smartphone as well as in my client management dashboard, 17Hats. For all of my passwords, I use Dashlane, which offers apps as well as online access.
You’ll also want to take along your children’s school contact info to be able to check on the current operating status of your child’s school, as well as local media website info. My lifeline in getting current information about my home city was through the websites of Beaumont and Orange’s newspapers and television and radio stations.
4. Know the primary office/computer equipment that will be required to get your business up and running. I had become accustomed to operating with a minimal amount of my office equipment when I was a house sitter for a friend for 2 months. So, upon receiving the mandatory evacuation order, I knew that to run my business, all I needed was my smartphone, my iPad, and my laptop. I rarely print anything, so even though I have a laser printer, I didn’t include it. I use PDFs for just about everything these days.
5. Know the location of your primary paper files for your clients/business. These days all of my client’s files are kept online. I do that via my client management system, 17Hats, as well as with Evernote Premium. This is a great deal easier than hauling around paper files.
6. Have a backup telephone plan. After Hurricane Harvey, I canceled my landline phone service and now do everything on my cell phone. I use an app called Sideline that gives me a second number for my iPhone, which I use as a business number. I use my phone service through AT&T for the actual calls, although Sideline masks my actual mobile number and uses its number as the number that recipients see when I call them.
7. Have a backup Internet access plan. You may be able to purchase Internet access at the hotel to which you evacuate, or it may be included as part of your lodging fee. Since I now have unlimited data on my phone, I can set up a hotspot for my laptop if I need it using my iPhone. However, I prefer to use the service of the hotel where I’m staying with if I can.
8. Bring along adequate office supplies for a month. I don’t really use many office supplies any longer other than an occasional pen or pair of scissors or stamps/envelopes, so my packing is light on the office supplies front. I do, however, use my USB headphones all the time. And, I pack several of my Apple earphones with a mic, as well.
9. Outline your office procedures to help you operate independently or be able to delegate tasks. Instead of carrying your business operations info in your head or have it stored in various files across your computer, what makes more sense is to document all of your office procedures, as well as computer and client info, so that everything you need is in one document. You can do this with any word processing or spreadsheet program and create lists, templates, or checklists, or enter the info into Evernote Premium or a free program like Trello.
10. Bring a digital camera to record the event and/or record damages to personal property. I wish I’d had a digital camera to record all that I witnessed during my evacuation from Hurricane Rita (I now own a Canon Powershot A630 as well an an iPhone). My sister took tons of pics, but I would’ve loved to have had the same opportunity. More importantly, however, is the need for a digital or smartphone camera to record damage to your home and property.
In a wide-spread disaster, it can be at least a month, usually more, before your insurance adjuster will be able to assess damages to your property. In the meantime, however, you need to start repairs, like placing a tarp on your roof, boarding up broken windows, removing downed trees from your house or yard, or cleaning your refrigerator of spoiled food. In many cases, your insurance will cover the repairs or food replacement, but you need to carefully document the “before” scenario in order to receive compensation for your loss.
Bonus Tips: Accessing Daily Services. You may need to get your mail or contact your medical professionals during a natural disaster. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. Neither mail service nor any type of UPS/FedEx delivery services will operate during a natural disaster, and they may take weeks or months to resume. During Hurricane Rita, our post office was completely closed for almost 2 months, since it flooded. It took us another 2 months for them to set up temporary quarters that allowed us to get our mail. Fortunately, most of what I needed in terms of paying bills could be done online. And, in many cases, your payments will be delayed due to the disaster. You’ll need to check with your individual providers to see if that holds true for you.
If you cannot return to your home, your doctors and pharmacies cannot open for business either, and you will probably not be able to contact them. You will need to call your health insurance company for advice if you need to see an out-of-the-area doctor in the interim, especially if you have a PPO service. In terms of prescriptions, I refill my monthly ones online with a pharmacy with offices throughout the south. I hate to tell you not to use a local pharmacy, but that local pharmacy will be useless if you live in an area prone to hurricanes, as I do. When you use a regional pharmacy, it is very easy to transfer your prescriptions from one location to another, as any store in that chain can access your account.
Don’t let a natural disaster destroy your business. Take some time now to prepare your business disaster plan, and get back into business as soon as you can!
Best-selling author Donna Gunter works with successful business owners who are experts in their fields and established in their industry and are seeking a way to stand out from their competitors. Using her Ideal Clients on Autopilot System©, she helps them determine the exact strategies to generate more qualified leads and better-paying clients with automated systems. This proven system makes all their marketing easier and more effective and they find themselves positioned as the only choice for their clients.