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October 26, 2017

Blink of an Eye

By Jonathan Zimmerman

If these last few months have taught us anything, it is how truly fragile life can be. Collectively, we have witnessed way too many horrific tragedies and natural disasters as of late. The Las Vegas shooting, along with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, have caused permanent destruction – both physically and mentally – that have altered many innocent lives forever. While human life supersedes everything else, there is also a palpable element of buildings and businesses being crippled and in some cases, ruined beyond repair. Everything is seemingly fine one moment, then in the blink of an eye, everything can change.

The latest example, albeit on a smaller scale, happened a few days ago when a local storefront theater in my neighborhood burned down due to a freak electrical fire. I had tickets to attend a children’s show there with my daughter this past weekend. If the show would have been scheduled one week earlier, the fire would have occurred right as the show was beginning. Though it was incredibly lucky that no one was hurt, the theater now needs to be re-built from scratch. The founder worked so hard to create this business from the ground up, putting in incredible amounts of time and capital. It took a few years, but recently the theater seemed to hit its stride and fill an important niche in the community; just like that, it is all gone.

The sad reality is that tragedy can strike any one of us at a moment’s notice. It is borderline terrifying to ponder, but as a business owner or manager, it’s necessary for an action plan to be in place. There are many important points to consider and questions to ask to ensure that you are prepared should something happen.

Here are a few key questions to keep in mind so that you are equipped to handle any emergencies :

• Is there a contingency plan in place? Do you have the necessary updated insurance lined up if the unthinkable happens, including business interruption insurance? As the business grows, insurance should be adjusted accordingly to adequately reflect new circumstances.
• If your business suffers a catastrophe due to a fire or natural disaster, will you be completely shut down until repairs are made or can you work remotely? If not, can a temporary office space be obtained to help get through the reconstruction period? Does your landlord have other buildings in the area which can be offered as interim space? After the hurricane in Houston, many firms moved their office to co-working facilities while their buildings were being repaired.
• Modern technology has made it easier to work from home or at a local coffee shop for a few days. In case of a fire or natural disaster, is all of your data backed up sufficiently, whether it be in the cloud or on backup drives? Without this, working remotely may not be an option.
• If the catastrophe strikes during the business day, does everyone in the office know the proper evacuation route? Other than calling 9-1-1, are there any contacts within your building who could be of assistance?
• Is your building or facility properly equipped with smoke detection systems and sprinklers in case of a fire?
• Does your place of work have a proper security system in place, whether it is a guard on the premises or an alarm or buzzer to keep out unwanted guests?
• If crisis counselors are ever needed to assist fellow staff members in coping with a particular occurrence, do you know who to contact?
• In the case of a small business run by a sole proprietor, is there a contingency plan in place if something abruptly happens to the owner? Will employees continue to get paid? Can the business continue to function?

Ultimately, while tragedies and trying conditions are never going away, the more you prepare when times are calm, the better the chance you will be able to successfully cope.