As you’ve probably heard, the St. Louis area was hit with two major storms last week which resulted in more than 1/2 million customers being without electricity for varying lengths of time. In fact, as I write this, there are still more than 1/4 million homes and businesses without power. To make matters worse, many people have been without water and telephone service, too. Local utilities are estimating that all power should be restored by Wednesday evening, one full week after the first storm hit the area.
Here at Tacony Corporation, we were fortunate to avoid any loss of services, but hundreds of other local businesses weren’t so lucky. A while back, an article was posted here called "Most Business Owners Unprepared for Natural Disasters." Our recent experience here in St. Louis, as well as similar problems in other areas shows just how important it is to be prepared.
Obviously, different disasters produce different situations for various types of businesses. For example, companies selling ice, bottled water, portable coolers, generators, and other supplies needed to cope with the lack of electricity have been doing a booming business here for the last few days. On the other hand, restaurants and other food sellers who have been without power have had to destroy thousands of dollars worth of perishable food.
Businesses of all types have lost sales because they couldn’t operate without electricity. "Progress" has brought many of our businesses to the point where we can’t operate in an emergency. Windows in many buildings, including our offices in St. Louis, don’t open. Information is computerized, meaning that without electricity, sales, inventory, price, and personnel information isn’t accessible.
Violent storms, earthquakes, fires, mud slides, excessive heat and cold, illness, and a lot of other things can interrupt our businesses and cause big losses. Do you have an emergency plan? Is your important data, either electronic or old-fashioned paper, backed up and stored at a remote location? Do your key people have ways of communicating if normal channels are cut off? Do you keep a supply of non-perishable food and water on hand at home and in your place of business? Do you have flashlights, AND FRESH BATTERIES, a battery-powered radio and a first aid kit on hand? Hopefully you have at least one hard-wired telephone (Cordless phones won’t work without electricity).
Have you reviewed your insurance lately? Is everything current? Has your coverage kept up with inflation? Do you have business interruption coverage? The best time to answer all these questions is now, before these things become an issue. No one ever thinks it will happen to them, but when you travel for blocks through a major city and see no lights, it makes you realize that stuff happens. It doesn’t necessarily take a Hurricane Katrina to cause serious losses for your business if you haven’t taken the right steps ahead of time.
A Disaster Planning Toolkit is available on-line from the Small Business Administration.