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You can rise above natural disasters

Know the Score

Posted: October 31, 2008 9:36 p.m.
Updated: January 2, 2009 5:00 a.m.
 

Floods, droughts, hurricanes, severe storms, landslides, ice, snow and wildfires are all natural disasters that can cause devastation when it comes to your business.  What do you do if your business is destroyed by a natural disaster?  Who do you turn to? How can you prepare now to prevent hardship later?

Here are a few tips for overcoming the effects of a disaster by pre-planning and learning about assistance from outside sources.

Key questions
Every company, no matter the size, should prepare a disaster-recovery plan.  Most importantly, you should determine what records or files would be needed immediately in order to have business function in the aftermath.  Ask yourself the following questions:
n If your office was condemned after a disaster, and you had only minutes to retrieve your belongings, what would you grab?
n If all your records were destroyed, what would you use as identification?
n Without identification, would you still have access to your property, bank funds, insurance company, and medical services?
n Could you replace one-of-a-kind records pertaining to your business history?
n Could you continue or rebuild your business if you lost all of your records?
n Once business returns to normal, what methods will you use to compile your tax return?

Plan ahead by gathering all important documents such as birth certificates, licenses, registrations, insurance identification cards and policies, banking account records, investment records, customer files, and financials and make duplicates. Make copies either on paper or electronically and put them all in one safe, fireproof and waterproof container that can be grabbed and carried to safety.  You can even file them off-site, but most likely if you’re a victim of a natural disaster the damage will be throughout your area and not just your business site.

After a disaster, identification should be located as soon as possible. You will be required to legitimately lay claim to your property and holdings. The preparation you do now will save you hours of anguish later.

Most likely most of your business records are stored in your office computer, and this can be backed-up by an off-site backup service. Living in California, which is prone to earthquakes, I subscribe to such a service. This not only is good after a disaster (they are usually out of state), but if my computer should blow-up or “crash” it’s able to be restored.

Where to turn?
If you should become a victim of a disaster there is help available, and places to turn to for assistance. Put these phone numbers with you survival kit too:

n Federal Emergency Management Agency — Loans are available to people who have suffered damage to business property or incurred economic injury due to a major disaster, as declared by the president of the USA. (Hopefully they’ve improved since the time hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans). You can contact them at (800) 462-9029.  Their Web site is www.fema.gov

n Internal Revenue Service — If you have damaged or lost property in a location declared by the president as a major disaster area, you may be able to receive funds from the IRS.  Or, if you’ve had an emergency and need extra time to file taxes or make payments, free tax assistance is available from the IRS.  Learn more about disaster-area losses at their Web site:   www.irs.ustreas.gov.

n U.S. Small Business Administration — You may be eligible for financial assistance from the SBA.  If your business is located in a declared disaster area and has incurred damage the SBA offers loans up to $1.5 million to qualified businesses to help replace or repair damaged property to its pre-disaster condition.  In certain cases, limited relocation costs can be included in the loan amounts.  Besides damaged property, SBA loans may also cover economic losses to qualified businesses.  Contact your local SBA for the location of the SBA Disaster Area office nearest you.  Read more about SBA’s disaster loan procedure at their Web site: www.sba.gov.

Even though you may know about all these agencies now, file the information with your disaster recovery documents because when a disaster hits your mind goes blank. You’re busy counting noses to see who survived, and overcome by the devastation you’re looking at that was called “your business.”
We all hope that we never need this information but you remember, “Murphy’s Law” – and I think he was an optimist!

Maureen Stephenson is a local author and owner of Santa Clarita-based REMS Publishing & Publicity. Her column represents her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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