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Can you really prepare for the "what if's" in your business?

Jul 15, 2011

Disasters always happen to someone else, right? We hear about tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, but seldom take the time to prepare for dealing with our own catastrophes. But, they can and do happen, just when we think the road is clear sailing for our businesses and lives. I would like to share a story with you about an experience I had in dealing with the “what if’s”!


One hot July morning several years ago, it was “work as usual” in my family-owned print shop. We were concentrating on the week’s big project, printing a family history book that was due in just a few days.  Without warning, the skies opened with a Wyoming downpour, accompanied by one-inch hail. Amidst the din of the storm, a new, horrible sound erupted…creaking, crashing and screaming, followed by a streak of employees rushing out the front entrance. The rear of the 50’x100’ clear span, flat roofed, concrete block building had collapsed. The down spouts were blocked by ice and the roof had filled with water, like a swimming pool. Unable to bear the weight, the whole roof caved in, releasing a tidal wave that swept from the back of the building where our paper was stored, through the darkroom, pressroom, reception area…right on our heels as we raced for the front door.


How could we have planned ahead for such a disaster? Businesses that recover quickly from catastrophes are those that have planned in advance. Consider a proactive strategy for your company…before a disaster strikes.

    * Be aware…minimize the risk of damage in advance of an emergency by examining your structure and identifying potential issues. Although we thought we were prepared for a “normal” flood (all inventory was stored on shelves above the floor), we had no idea that the building was poorly constructed and wouldn’t handle a heavy load of water or snow.

    * Develop a plan for handling a disaster…communicate with your employees and develop good relationships with your competition. The positive attitudes of our employees were crucial in creating a team that worked to reopen the business quickly. Our competition, other local print shops, offered to complete our jobs to meet our critical deadlines!

    * Review your insurance plan…be certain that you have sufficient coverage to pay for indirect costs of a disaster, the disruption to your business, as well as the cost of repair or rebuilding. Our insurance company worked closely with us to find a new building, remodel it and hire a moving crew, making sure we were able to continue business with minimal disruption.

    * Consider your key partners… including relationships with your lenders. Our business loan payment was due on the day of the disaster. Our banker assessed the situation and allowed us to take two months off from our regular payment schedule, to insure cash flow stayed positive during the rebuilding process.

    * Develop a disaster recovery plan…review all the components on a regular basis. Remember to consider fire safety and emergency preparedness measures, business continuation and building repair plans, along with your insurance program. Learn from others who’ve been through disasters! Take pictures of your premises, keep accurate inventory and note potential dangers.

Although a business would not choose to experience a disaster, preparation for the “what if’s” can build positive continuity strategies that will carry the business forward with greater strength, determination and teamwork.

Category: Business Planning

Susan Jerke

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