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Safeguarding Your Operation From Disaster

Establishing a plan that addresses your business’s needs immediately before, during and after a disaster could be the key to keeping employees safe, protecting your building and staying operational. No matter what kind of emergency you face, having guidelines in place today can be a small step that streamlines your recovery tomorrow.

Hardware Retailing compiled information from a variety of sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and tips from retailers who have faced disaster head-on. Download this checklist for reference and read below to learn more information about small business disaster recovery. If you still have questions about how to safeguard your operation, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s emergency preparedness website, ready.gov.

Before an Emergency

Taking a few days each year to evaluate your business’s structure, finances and emergency plans can make all the difference.

Find a Shelter

Employees who know where to take shelter can also guide customers there and help reduce the risk of injuries in your store. FEMA recommends business owners research the types of natural disasters that are common in your area and find places within your building that would protect against them. Print a floor plan of your building, label specific shelters clearly, and hang it in your break room or in the point of sale area for easy reference.

Practice Emergency Drills Often

Gather your employees to practice inclement weather drills as often as possible. The Red Cross recommends practicing emergency drills twice a year, which provide the perfect opportunity to train new employees on shelter locations, disaster protocol and other safety information. Show employees how to safely turn off water, gas and electricity if necessary.

Gather Supplies

Having the right resources at your store can make the moments after a disaster much more orderly and manageable. FEMA suggests storing several items before an emergency, including:

  • Flashlights
  • Battery-operated radios
  • Bottled water
  • Nonperishable food
  • Blankets
  • First aid supplies

As a home improvement retailer, you may already have access to items that could be vital during an emergency, but it’s always a good idea to stock extras in your emergency shelter in case you aren’t able to access your inventory. These items include:

  • Pliers and wrenches
  • Extra batteries
  • Dust and filter masks

It’s also a good idea for you and your employees to download local news apps on your smartphones to stay connected to local weather and news reports even if the power fails.

Schedule Regular Audits

Some counties and insurance plans require annual safety audits of your building. Even if you aren’t required to have one, have local experts inspect your building for potential problems before they arise. Contact your local fire department for a fire safety inspection and take their findings seriously. Spending a small amount of money to repair faulty wiring or damaged circuit breakers is a minor expense compared to rebuilding a store from the ground up.

Run a Risk Analysis

FEMA’s recommendation of running a risk analysis each year can be one of the most beneficial things you do for your store’s long-term survival. It’s important to reanalyze each year, taking into account your store’s growth and new challenges you face. The following are all important components of a risk analysis.

Identify Hazards

Based on your geographic location, some natural disasters are much more likely than others. Research the types of severe weather your area faces and ask yourself how you and your store would fare in each scenario.

Safeguard Your Assets

Whether it’s financial data, employee information or tax records, back up crucial files that are necessary for your operation at a second or third location or upload them to the cloud. Using cloud-computing technology is an easy and inexpensive way of maintaining your business’s data.

“It worked to our advantage,” says Nick Kaplanis, general manager of Frager’s Hardware, which began backing up its data to the cloud well before a fire engulfed the business. “I’ve heard so many stories of stores that lost all their records. I don’t know how you function without all that information.”

Review Your Insurance

As your business grows, having the same kind of insurance policy you had when you started can be a disaster itself. Make annual appointments with your insurer to make sure your business is protected in every likely emergency situation. Consider replacement cost coverage as opposed to actual cash value policies. Ask honest questions, and don’t stop until you’re completely satisfied with your coverage.

“Go through your insurance plans with a fine-toothed comb. There were things I thought I’d be getting paid for and I didn’t get paid for them at all,” says David Sagona, owner of Sagona’s Hardware. A tornado destroyed his hardware store in 2016 and Sagona wishes he had taken his insurance policy to a lawyer or trusted professional for a close inspection before emergency struck.

Communicate After an Emergency

After severe weather or protests pass, open and honest communication can be one of the most valuable assets of your recovery.

Take Photos

Your smartphone can be a critical tools following an emergency. After checking your employees’ and customers’ safety, start taking photos of the damage your building has sustained. These photos can be helpful assets as you begin the insurance claims process.

Anne Carter Bean, manager of Wilson Carter Supply Co., saw how powerful photos could be after floodwaters rushed through her family’s store.

“When I started snapping photos, I put them on the Facebook page for the store and my personal page as well. Then I just kept sending updates,” she says. “Those pictures ended up being very beneficial for me.”

Bean’s photos helped her store receive a much larger drainage pipe to reduce the chance of future flooding. They also united her community, who were able to see in real time her store’s status and their recovery needs.

Stay in Touch

Whether it’s a simple Facebook update or an official press release, staying in touch is paramount following a disaster. Make sure your employees and your data are accounted for, but plan to contact your customers, suppliers and your community as soon as possible. Keep updating as your business recovers; from announcing new temporary locations to promoting fundraisers, communication is key.

Mickey Fried, co-owner of Belle Hardware in Baltimore, says that staying in touch with employees is also a vital part of  responding to an emergency.

“All of my employees have cellphones, and I have everyone in a single group. I can write a single text if need be and reach all my employees at once,” he says.

Contact Your Suppliers

Retailers may be surprised by how flexible their suppliers can be after an emergency strikes. Don’t hesitate to contact your suppliers and be frank with them about your current situation.

Have a Special Sale

Though emergencies at your small business can damage much of your inventory, take advantage of any products that are still able to be sold. Frager’s Hardware and Wilson Carter Supply Co. both staged special sales after disasters struck their operations. This is a good way to get customers back into your building or introduce them to your temporary location. It’s also the perfect way to keep money coming into your store at a critical time.

Don’t Give Up

Hardware stores are an invaluable community resource, especially after a disaster. Your store might suffer damage, but it also might be uniquely qualified to assist others in their own recoveries by providing essential tools and materials. Be flexible and accessible, and think of your community’s immediate recovery needs alongside your own.

About Todd Taber

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