According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, while communities eventually survive a disaster, fully 40% – 60% of their medium and small businesses will never reopen. Now what? If this sounds like a socioeconomic catastrophe to you, please read on! The impact to South Windsor’s community, given the large number of small businesses here would be almost unimaginable. The reality is that medium and small businesses are at particular risk because their margin, or cushion, to survive a period of unplanned closure is quite small.  Many of those businesses that have not planned for a disaster will never open their doors again. These aren’t just brick and mortar structures providing commerce – no, they are so much more than that. Our local businesses are in many ways our identity, the heartbeat of our community, and our local investment in vitality, stability, and resiliency! Thus, if you have a business in our community, you need to prepare. Your actions not only affect your business, but also the entire community. Think of this as your responsibility!

neighborsMany of our local businesses regularly and generously give back – sponsoring sports teams, charities, and other local programs. They provide local jobs and employ many of our neighbors. Many of us cherish our relationships with these businesses, and would be lost without them! As these businesses thrive and grow, they create bigger tax revenues, benefiting the entire community, our schools, police, fire, community center, etc. In the end, these businesses are a vital part of all of us. In many instances, they are why people visit South Windsor, move into town, and are an important aspect of our community, as a whole. Understanding this is important, and further clarifies the potential catastrophic impact to South Windsor, should our small businesses not reopen following a disaster.

How does our business community prevent this? Well, one great place to start is FEMA’s business preparedness website, ready.gov.  FEMA takes what appears to be a huge undertaking, and breaks it down into five manageable parts, keeping many from becoming overwhelmed! The five steps in developing a preparedness program for your business are: Program Management, Planning, Implementation, Testing and Exercise, and Program Improvement. I want to encourage all of our small business owners to explore this web site more fully. However, below is a brief summary of each step.

Program Management: This first step is to develop a preparedness policy that emphasizes the mission and vision of your business. Likewise, this policy should define the roles and responsibilities of employees before, during and after a disaster. Safety concerns of employees and consumers, along with potential work hazards, should also be addressed in this policy. Additionally, methods for minimizing interruptions and Program Development Processdisruptions of business operations should be detailed.

Planning: This is the gathering of information and analysis portion of your business preparedness. The information needed here includes the types of hazards and risks your business may face. While it is extremely difficult for one to prepare for every potential hazard, there are many preparedness commonalities each of these hazards have. This way of thinking is called an all-hazards approach. Once you have a good understanding of these potential hazards, you can then assess the risks to your business. This process is known as a business impact analysis (BIA).

Implementation:  This is the portion of your disaster preparedness plan where the rubber hits the road! This step assists you in implementing the plans and policies your business has developed. Likewise, this is the time to train your employees, ensuring that they have a clear understanding of the plans and policies you have created.

Testing and Exercise: In order for any disaster policy or plan to be effective, everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities. By testing your employees, you will be able to identify any areas needing clarification, and answer any questions they may have. Likewise, this reinforces knowledge of vital procedures pertaining to facilities, systems, and equipment. Once testing is completed, the next step is to exercise the plans and policies. What may appear to be effective on paper is not always effective when implemented! Just think back to some of the policies that were written and later found to be ineffective – consider Katrina, and an uninhabitable Superdome. Understanding this is quintessential to the overall disaster preparedness process. When you exercise your plans and policies, this strengthens your overall preparedness program. Moreover, this is the opportunity for you to evaluate what works, and what needs improvement.

Program Improvement: This is the corrective action portion of your disaster program plan. The deficiencies or gaps discovered during the exercises need to be corrected and improved upon. Lastly, this is the time to write down the lessons learned and incorporate them into your corrective action plan.

While I imagine the task of developing your individual small business disaster plan may seem overwhelming, if initiated in small steps, it is quite manageable. It could save your business, and in preparing for a disaster, you and your business become part of the solution to community preparedness! Again, please refer to, and utilize, all of the enormously helpful information provided for you at ready.gov. – Jay