How we would respond and what we would need depends a great deal on the type of emergency and how much time we have to get ready.
I never really thought much about preparing our small business for a disaster until Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina while Jerry was recovering from knee surgery.
He was discharged at noon on Wednesday and we evacuated immediately from the hospital to friends living in the North Western part of South Carolina. What should have been a five hour drive took a grueling eight hours because we had to use the detour routes set up for evacuation and traffic flow.
We left without time to think or plan for an evacuation. We did not know what would happen to our home or business.
This experience taught us some lessons about emergency preparedness for small business.
While Hurricane Matthew occurred in the South Eastern part of the United States; many customers around the world were not aware of what was happening. They did not know about Governor Haley's evacuation order for South Carolina and the closure of the postal service.
Our first priority was to communicate what was happening to our customers around the world. The phone service was not reliable; but I was able to text messages to Joy, our social marketing director.
Joy posted notices on Facebook and Instagram. She also sent out a notice to our newsletter subscribers.
Once we were safely in the mountains and had internet access; I posted messages in all online stores and created automated e-mail responses to all e-mail inquiries explaining the evacuation order and closure of all online stores.
We could have kept the on line stores open and continued to take orders and accept payments; but we would not have been able to fill or ship orders and did not know how the business would be impacted by the storm.
We respect and care about our customers and needed to communicate in a timely and honest manner with them about our situation. We learned that regular communication is very important for maintaining trust within our customer base.
Power Outage and No Internet
We need a Back Up Plan
Electricity went off on Saturday during the hurricane and did not return to our business and home until the following Tuesday. We were very fortunate because some people were without electricity for weeks.
Although we had electricity on Tuesday; Internet service was not restored until later in the week.
We do have battery packs for computers for short power outages; but plan to get a generator for future long term power outages. We need to come up with a back up plan for internet cable outage.
If your small business has a back up plan for Internet outage; please share it with us. You can leave it in the comments below or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Building & Inventory Damage will impact Online Business
Hurricane Matthew did cause major damage to trees and flash flooding on Saint Helena Island where our home and business are located. We had some major clean up before re-opening and during the entire month following the hurricane.
There was a large oak tree that fell directly across the drive way where inventory is delivered and shipped out. We had some flood damage from storm surge to about 10% of our inventory. Fortunately we have a large back stock of inventory that was undamaged enabling us to continue to fill orders once we had finished clean up of the packing, painting, and shipping area.
Jerry had located the computer systems and battery packs about 4 feet off the floor on shelves. This saved them from any flooding and the computers worked immediately when power was restored. Some of our files and records are in the Cloud; but we need to make sure that all records are backed up and secure.
Clean up was intensive starting the day we returned when the evacuation was rescinded. We also hired extra help and volunteers from our church and community helped us to get the business up and running as quickly as possible.
We learned that we need to have cash reserves for time with no income due to store closure and any damages to property and inventory that will not be covered by insurance. We also learned to reach out and ask for help from our friends, family, and the community.
Postal Service - Not during evacuations
During Hurricane Matthew, the United States Post Office suspended operation at 80 post offices in South Carolina. This impacted shipping and receiving from all over the world.
Fortunately the Saint Helena and Beaufort Post Offices did not sustain major damage and were able to re-open the following Wednesday after the storm.
We learned that if there had been damage; we might have to ship and receive packages to alternative post offices at greater distance away from our location.
Jerry is getting physical therapy and we are slowly but surely cleaning up the debri in our yard and getting our lives and small business in order.
I am beginning to write again and hope to be able to pick up my crochet needles soon.
When I am feeling overwhelmed; I think about all of our family, friends, and community that helped and continue to assist us with our recovery. I remember our wonderful customers that sent prayers, words of encouragement, and support to us during the evacuation and while we have been recovering.
We learned that finding Gratitude for the many gifts, blessing, and miracles is helping us along through our recovery.
Check out the links below for more resources and tool kits for Small Business Emergency Preparedness
Small Business Association: Emergency Preparedness
Ready- Prepare, Plan, Stay Informed
FEMA- Small Business Toolkit: Tools and Resources to Plan, Prepare, and Protect