August 24, 2015
I’m writing this post while toggling back and forth between local news sources and texts coming in on my cell phone. My beloved Methow Valley, located in the North Central Cascade Mountains in Washington State, is burning. Two of the biggest towns in the Valley have been evacuated and my family’s cabin has bulldozers near it setting backburns to try to protect homeowners. Even more devastating, three firefighters lost their lives trying to protect the land they love.
It is heartbreaking to say the least. But as I see photos of the community come in from those who are still there, I keep wondering about the businesses. Evacuations mean that there are no customers to serve. While, as a human being, our first thought is always with the people and animals who are impacted, as a business owner I have to wonder how many businesses can handle being shut – and thus receiving no revenue – for days or even possibly weeks. And what happens to those businesses if structures are lost?
It doesn’t have to be anything as dramatic as a wildfire either. We’ve seen small food businesses on the east coast that have lost their production facilities after mammoth Nor’Easters and food trucks in the Midwest struggle when Arctic winds hunker down making roads impassable.
There are other threats too that aren’t from Mother Nature. What happens if your kitchen catches fire? It’s happened before to more than one food business? What happens if your home – that houses your home office – is flooded? What happens if your computer, with all your business contacts, crashes? What happens if a car crashes through the front of your store one night?
This isn’t written to scare you but to make you think about the fact that things can and will happen that are outside of your control. Part of being a good businessperson is to do what you can to mitigate those risks and then plan, as much as possible, for what you will do should something happen. Below are several questions you should be asking yourself as you think about how your business could and would whether a disaster:
1. What risks are most likely to your business based on your geography? Do you have contingency plans in place for things like weather closures?
2. Your staff is the most important part of your business in an emergency. Have you reviewed building evacuation plans with them (as needed)? Do you have several means by which to stay in contact with one another so that you can ensure your employees are safe?
3. Similarly, do you have your important contact information secure in an offsite location that you can access if you need to quickly relay information to them. This may include key buyers, customers who are expecting delivery of an order, distributors, food brokers, etc.
4. Where are your important business papers (including your recipes!) kept. Do you have backups – either print or digital – kept in a secure offsite location?
5. From a technology standpoint, do you have backups for your computer files? Are those backups in the cloud or another offsite location? Also, can you quickly and easily add notes to your company website should you need to communicate news to your customers?
6. Have you thoroughly researched your insurance options to ensure that, as you can afford, you have business continuation insurance that will help pay out in the event of a disaster so that you can take the time to get your business up and running.
7. How much of a shutdown can your business handle before you run out of cash? Even though this is one of those questions that may make you gulp with fear, it is far better to know this information so that you can quickly adjust plans and work to get back on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, if you can please keep the entire Western US in your thoughts and prayers and, most especially, the firefighters who are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others.