Disasters and emergency situations are not glamorous things to prepare for when running a business. You may feel the urge to put off planning for disasters because you don’t feel an immediate need and your work day is busy, but it is vital to spend the time to plan in order to protect your business in a disaster.

Disasters and emergency situations are not glamorous things to prepare for when running a business. You may feel the urge to put off planning for disasters because you don’t feel an immediate need and your work day is busy, but it is vital to spend the time to plan in order to protect your business in a disaster.


Real world disasters are often less dramatic and more emotionally devastating than Hollywood movies portray them. When a disaster hits your community, you might feel hopeless and overwhelmed. As a small business owner, you have to prepare for emergency scenarios with your business in addition to your personal life.

The way to prevent that black hole feeling when you see your store damaged or destroyed is by planning. Think about all the potential emergencies that your business type and your local environment could experience and create solid plans.

Before Disaster Strikes

Having a plan in place is key to being well prepared. Below is a short list of things you need to consider in your emergency plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and SCORE have comprehensive lists of detailed checklists and resources for free. Rehearse and disseminate your plan with your employees and keep copies of all important documents and contact information in a secure, offsite location for quick retrieval.

  • Insurance. Make sure you have all the information and paperwork you need ahead of time for your insurance provider. If your business is located in a particularly vulnerable location, consider additional coverage for natural disasters. Not all standard insurance plans cover these emergencies, so be sure to comb through your terms to be familiar with what damage is covered and what isn’t in the case of a disaster.
  • Inventory. If you aren’t already conducting regular inventory checks for business growth, then you should start doing it for the sake of recovery. Try to keep inventory records in different ways such as digital, physical, and photographic if possible. Insurance companies will want to know exactly what was damaged or destroyed. Police will need to know what was stolen in cases of looting. Knowing what you have will also help you get back to business once the disaster is over.
  • Communication. Keep updated records of employees’ contact information. If you need to reach them during or after an emergency, make sure all parties are aware how this communication will happen.
  • Business Continuity Plan. Do you have backup payroll, supply chain, and standard procedure for disasters? Your employees need to know specifically what the procedure is for evacuations and returning to work once the emergency has ended. Be flexible but aware – people panic in emergencies and may just disappear if there is no clear plan.
  • Supplies. While keeping a fire extinguisher and first aid kit onsite is obvious, do you have an easy-to-access supply of water, flashlights, blankets, nonperishable food items, and protective gear if the workplace needs to become a temporary shelter?
  • Personnel Safety. Conduct regular drills for common emergencies with your employees. Encourage or provide CPR training and certification. Establish a safe meeting place outside the workplace for small emergencies such as a building fire and learn where local shelter and evacuation points are for larger disasters. Make sure exits are not blocked, windows can open, and tall furniture or machinery are properly secured to the walls.

The American Red Cross has a handy, easy-to-read PDF checklist that you can download for free:

Small Business Emergency Checklist

In the Eye of the Storm

Now that you’ve created plans, copied documents, and practiced for different scenarios, it is time for you to put it all to good use.

In an emergency, you will need to be a leader not a manager. As a small business owner, your employees will look to management for guidance and assurance. If you are not calm and decisive, then they will panic and people could get hurt.

Once the Dust Clears

Make safety your top priority! Listen to law enforcement and emergency responders to know when you can safely return to the workplace for cleanup and resuming business operations. Don’t rush in until you know you and your employees are safe. Depending on your industry and the kind of disaster, there may be chemical leaks, mold, smoke damage, and other health risks.

Once you get back, take pictures of everything. Take detailed photos of damage and inventory for insurance claims. Don’t start repairs or cleanup until you have taken care of insurance, or you may pay more out of pocket than you need. Keep track of any expenses related to recovery. If insurance isn’t enough to cover damages, seek outside help from reputable organizations and business recovery centers.

Contact your bank, lenders, suppliers, clients, and anyone else who needs to be kept up to date with missed payments or deadlines. Most people will be understandable if you respond promptly.


For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.

Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

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