Small businesses struck by a hurricane often lose at least a couple days of business, and possibly several weeks depending on the strength of the storm. Planning before a hurricane – or any natural disaster or unexpected emergency – is key to business survival.

One storm can leave small businesses without power, under water or wiped away entirely. (JONATHAN BACHMAN/REUTERS)

Here are some immediate tips for disaster preparedness:

Develop a disaster recovery plan: Establish a disaster-recovery team of employees that know your business best, and assign responsibilities for specific tasks before disaster strikes. Use this opportunity to identify risks and make a detailed plan for how you will respond to disasters. Prioritize critical business functions and how quickly these must be recovered.

Alternative operational location and back-up site: Determine a place where, if disaster strikes, your business can continue operations. This may range from a satellite location to an employee home or local hotel. Whatever location you have available, make sure to equip it with critical equipment, data files and supplies.

Safeguard your property and information: While choosing an alternative location, prepare your property to survive the possible disaster. Appropriately secure the property and company equipment, as well as back-up computer systems and company records. Make sure that contact information for employees, key customers, important vendors and suppliers, and insurance companies are not just backed-up but accessible electronically for employees.

Employee preparation and communication: Make sure not only tha you have reliable methods of communicating with employees during a disaster, but that your employees are informed and knowledgeable about the company’s emergency plan.

Customer preparation: Make sure your customers know your business’ emergency contact information for sales and service support, your back-up business location (published on your website) and alternative methods for placing orders and payments.

Evacuation order: If a mandatory evacuation is issued, be prepared to grab and leave with critical office records and equipment, such as insurance policies and company contracts, company checks and bank account records, employee payroll and contact information

Cash management: Be prepared to meet emergency cash-flow needs, making sure to take your checkbook and credit cards in advance of the evacuation. Always keep enough cash on hand to handle immediate needs, and issue commercial credit cards to essential personnel to cover emergency business expenses. Use online banking services to monitor account activity; manage cash flow; initiate wires and pay bills; reduce dependency on paper checks and postal service to send and receive payments; and make night depository drops as early as possible if a threat is imminent.

According to our second quarter 2012 Small Business Barometer, most small business owners report their financial positions have remained stable or improved compared to a year ago. These tips will help your business minimize damages and maintain this positive trend through hurricane season and beyond.

Pete Appello is a national sales manager for small business banking at Capital One. For more information on emergency planning and preparedness for your business, visit Capital One’s website.

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