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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is your business ready for wild weather?

FEMA Photo library-Liz Roll

The Mid Atlantic is preparing for yet another wild weather event. As we patiently watch the track of hurricane Sandy there is a possibility that the hurricane could combine with another storm and add wintry twist to the event. Over the last several years this area has experienced some wild weather. There were three blizzards in one winter, two back to back. In 2011, there were back to back tropical storms. In 2012, we experienced a derecho storm. And now this weird chance of a hurricane meeting another system and stalling in the area. All of these weather events caused power outages. In the central Maryland region we are blessed with housing and business growth. However, the growth seems to be overtaxing the power grid. The outages occur more often and for longer durations.  

Those that have businesses or are responsible for businesses have even more on their mind. In addition to ensuring that their family and homes are safe, they must also protect their businesses, which in many cases are their livelihoods. We become so accustomed to having electricity we forget all that is powered by electricity, e.g.-gas pumps, ATMs, cash registers and credit card machines to list a few. We also become complacent as to how dependent our businesses are to electricity. As development continues in the Odenton area, power outages appear to be happening more frequently and for longer durations.

Power outages are reported in number of customers without power, not business loss. So there is not one source to determine how small businesses are affected. There are few businesses that can operate without power. Depending on your product you may be able to conduct some business with cash transactions. In the current economic climate any business loss is crucial. Add to that the possibility of losing inventory due to damage or loss of refrigeration and small businesses can really be hurt.

No different than a home, business owners should prepare for storms and power outages. The logistics of preparing your business for a storm and the loss of power after the storm can be complicated.  Having a written plan of action can make the task easier. Take the lessons learned from past outages and make a simple outline. The adage of “being prepared” is true and can significantly reduce either your loss or time your business is down.

Depending on your location and the type of storm you may need to prepare your facility for flooding. This may include boarding windows, sandbagging, moving inventory and equipment.  Your business has many unique facets that have to be examined when developing your plan. Here are a few operational items that should be considered.
  • Purchase generators or ensure generators are in place and operational.
  • Be prepared for cash transactions.
  • What type of telephone system do you use? Newer systems do not work without power or have six hour battery backups.
  • What type of security do you have? As with the telephone system, security systems often have only six hour backups. 
  • Backup computer business files. Sudden and/or prolonged power outages can result in data loss.  When complete, store the files off site. 
  • In the winter, prepare for safe ways to provide heat to your business.  

The biggest mistake business owners can make is not heeding warnings and being caught off guard. We can all learn from the recent storms and past winters heavy snows. Power outages are becoming more frequent. Having a plan of action to protect your business assets may be the some of the cheapest insurance available.

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