Hurricane Sandy is being called one of the largest storms ever recorded. As of this writing, early in the morning of October 29, 2012, The Weather Channel is reporting that over 6,800 U.S. flights have already been cancelled; public transportation is shut down in New York City and Boston; and businesses located from North Carolina to Maine–and as far east as Ohio–are bracing for a natural disaster of epic proportions.
And earlier this weekend, Hawaii and the west coast of the U.S. were bracing for possible tsunami that could have been triggered by a series of strong earthquakes off the coast of British Columbia.
There are plenty of preparedness tips for the general public, but how should your business prepare for a magnitude 7 earthquake or a natural disaster the size of Hurricane Sandy?
You may think that online businesses are safe. After all, there are no brick-and-mortar storefronts to worry about. But the truth is that many–if not most–online businesses are just as vulnerable to disasters, both man-made and natural. Here are some tips to keep long-term damage to a minimum.
1. First of all, contact your insurance agent to find out if there’s an insurance policy that can protect your business from weather-related losses or natural disasters. Buy coverage if you can afford it.
2. If your business is headquartered on the Internet, be sure you have at least two recent backups of your website–one safely stored locally (where you are) and one stored remotely–preferably in a secure cloud storage account, accessible from anywhere.
3. If you host your own website on your own local server, and you cannot afford any downtime, be sure you have an uninterrupted power supply and a generator to keep your server running. House your server in a secure area of your facility, above the reach of possible flood waters and away from windows.
4. If you host your site locally, you should still have multiple backups, including at least one stored off-site. You may even consider setting up a mirror of your site with a large hosting company such as Bluehost (my personal favorite and the hosting company I recommend to clients). If your local site goes down, you can switch over to the mirror temporarily until your local site is restored. A large hosting company is likely to have redundant, geographically diverse, frequently-backed-up servers.
5. If your site is hosted by a web hosting company, find out what their emergency procedures are. Your site may be hosted on a server in a specific data center. Find out where that data center is located, so you can tell if your site may be at risk.
6. Find out if your hosting company does regular backups of their servers, and whether or not they will automatically restore your site from a backup if their server is damaged in a natural disaster.
7. Learn how to access your company email via a webmail interface if you don’t already know how to do it. Check with your email server administrator to make sure that copies of all emails accessed via the web are preserved on the server so you can access them later.
8. Set up an emergency communication system to allow you to keep in touch with employees and/or vendors. For example, there are several broadcast SMS services that allow you to send text messages to a group of people (such as your staff). In natural disasters, it’s often possible to send text messages even if phone service goes down.
9. Make sure customers have a way to get news alerts from your online business in case of outages that keep you from accessing your company email list or answering the company phones. For example, consider posting status reports on a Facebook page, a Google Plus page or on Twitter. Post notices on your site’s home page or blog to let customers know what’s going on.
10. Speaking of phones, record a voicemail message telling callers whether your business is open or closed, and when you may reopen if there has been damage. Start your message by saying the date and time, so callers know when the message was updated. Mention where callers can go to get updates until your site is back online (for example, your Twitter account or a Facebook page.)
We can’t (yet) control the weather, but you can control your organization’s reaction to threatening conditions. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst…and you may be able to keep disruption of your business activities to a minimum.
Kathleen Hanover is a marketing and public relations expert who helps small and medium businesses generate leads, foot traffic, search engine rankings, and publicity.