During the decade since Katrina’s storm surge flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and destroyed homes and businesses along a hundred miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches in Mississippi and Alabama, a string of disasters—natural and manmade—have revisited the region. Starting later in 2005 with Hurricane Rita and including the BP Oil spill, the disasters have hurt small and big businesses alike. Small and local businesses are less likely to survive such a disaster, however. But when it comes to resilience after a disaster—having the most positive impact, quickest—small and local businesses lead the way. Over the next few days, we will be exploring the topic of small businesses and disasters. 

Be prepared

The Scouts’ motto should also be the motto for all small businesses when it comes to natural or manmade disasters. This is especially true for the type of weather-related disasters (rain, blizzard, fire) that are supposed to occur once every century but seem to be showing up with greater regularity.

Before you find yourself, your business and your employees snowed in, flooded or blown away by high winds, you need to establish a plan and policies for responding to extreme weather. This will give your employees a concise understanding of your expectations for attendance and how your small business should operate during a heavy snowfall, hurricane, tornado, flood, or whatever else may cause Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel to show up in your town. While every company is unique and the types of situations you may face are varied, here are some of the issues you should consider and cover in such a policy.

Employees Who Work Outside or Travel

If your business operates outside or has employees who travel frequently, your ability to conduct business is likely directly tied to the weather. One of the best things to do in order to continue the work flow in these types of small businesses is to have tasks and duties set aside for days in which the weather doesn’t cooperate. Though this may be difficult, you need to at least be acutely aware on a daily basis to what is happening with the weather in those locations where your employees may be traveling, as well. Alternative opportunities may be available (say, flying to Atlanta rather than Cleveland to avoid a blizzard) for some types of businesses that have far-flung clients, prospects or projects. Certain types of companies, trucking for instance, must constantly review the weather their employees will be facing while traveling. Learn from the way they adapt to changing situations. 

Put Your Inclement Weather Policy in Writing


(Photo via wikimedia commons)

It is extremely important that you are clear about the details. While such a policy may not be able to foresee every potential weather situation, the policy should be an easy to access and follow set of instructions and clearly spell out what is expected of employees.

Most Important: Err on the Side of Safety

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(Photo via donatetocharity.com)

Unless your business is one related to being a first-responder in time of crisis, your top priority must be the safety of your employees, customers and anyone else that may have a relationship with your company (for example, vendors). This is both the right thing to do and we shouldn’t have to say any more. However, for a few of you who may need added incentive: Check your insurance policies and talk with your lawyer regarding liability issues and state or local regulations regarding obligations to pay certain types of employees under different conditions.

Establish a Clear Plan of Communications

If you decide to temporarily close your business due to inclement weather, your next most important task becomes communicating this to your employees, clients or customers. Among the methods you can include in your plan, consider group emails to lists of employees or customers, an old-fashioned “telephone tree” where different employees are assigned a small list to call, company blog and website posts, call in announcements to your local TV channels and radio stations, and be sure to spread the word via social media like Twitter and Facebook.

Offer Flexible Options

To prevent putting your employees and business at risk, you may want to offer flexible working options. If your employees can work from home for a day or two, consider taking advantage of this. If your employees cannot work from home and you have the type of business that can support it, offer them the opportunity to make up lost hours.

Don’t Panic

When in the middle of any type of crisis, the worst thing you can do is panic. Planning ahead, communicating the plan before hand, and executing the plan when the time comes will lessen the tendencies by you and your employees to panic when the Weather Channel tries to turn the next “weather situation” into a weather disaster.

(Featured image via wikimedia commons)

Contributors to this post: Rex Hammock and David Hollerith

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