As we enter another hurricane season, safety and disaster preparedness should be on the forefront of all our minds; and in addition to personal and home safety, it is important to recognize the impact severe weather can have on businesses, as well.

Preparing for a storm now can make life much simpler for business owners after a natural disaster strikes. (Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)

Small businesses struck by a severe storm can be forced into a standstill for a few days, several weeks — or even longer. Preparedness can prove vital to business survival after natural disasters and other emergencies.

Below are some simple tips to help small business owners prepare for and mitigate damage caused by a natural disaster:

Identify an alternate location: For many small business owners, the recovery process after a natural disaster can be lengthy. Consider moving employees to an alternate work site, such as a satellite office or hotel ballroom. Whatever location you have available, make sure to equip it with critical equipment, data files and supplies.

Customer preparation: Make sure your customers know what to expect from your company in the event of a prolonged disaster displacement. Publish backup business or store locations on your website, and make sure your customers know your company’s emergency contact information for sales and service support, and alternative methods for placing orders and payments.

Document your property: Take pictures of your property before a disaster strikes. This can help insurance companies assess the damage from the storm, and ensure you get the help you need.

Be prepared to meet emergency cash-flow needs: Make sure your bank accounts include emergency funds, and keep enough cash on hand to handle immediate needs. 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 the postal service to send and receive payments; and make night depository drops as early as possible if a threat is imminent.

Identify tools needed for business to continue: Prioritize critical business functions and how quickly these must be recovered.

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

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.

Recovery and evaluation: Once you are up and running again, compare what actually happened to your company’s disaster plan. How well did you follow through? This type of evaluation will help you minimize the impact of a disaster should one happen again.

In the event of a natural disaster or unexpected emergency, the above tips can help you minimize financial damage and keep your business running smoothly, through hurricane season and beyond.

Tony Pica is Senior Vice President, Mid-Atlantic Group Executive for small business banking at Capital One.

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