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Hurricane season is here! Is your business prepared?

When you live in Florida, it’s hard to forget hurricane season. From June 1 through November 30,hurricane the news media encourage citizens to prepare for the worst.

Personal preparedness is one thing, but how about your business? Can it survive the flooding and wind damage from even a Category 1 hurricane?

Advanced planning

Now—before the threat of a storm—is the time to compile a room-by-room list of your business equipment and assets, advises Ronnie Hicks, Esq., a tax attorney with Jacksonville-based Tax Defense Network, Inc. (www.taxdefensenetwork.com). “Doing this will help you prove the market value of damaged items to the IRS and for insurance purposes.”

• Take photos. An easy way to do this is to take photos or make a video of the contents of your business. (Store the photos with someone who is out of the geographical risk of the hurricane, or upload them to multiple servers, such as Flickr or YouTube, for security and protection.) Additionally, you should document the fair market value of your assets.

• Review insurance policies. Now is also the time to review your insurance policies for both wind and flood damage. (Most policies do not cover flood damage.) And, you might want to consider business-interruption insurance. This type of insurance covers operating expenses and compensates you for income lost after a temporary closure.

• Arrange for document storage. As you prepare in advance, make you sure protect your business records, including all tax, accounting, payroll, and production records, and customer data. Store paper records and backup tapes at an offsite location at least 100 miles away. Keep these documents in a fireproof safe deposit box.

• Use electronic backups. If your tax records, such as W-2s and tax returns, are not electronic, scan them and copy them to flash drives, CDs, or DVDs, recommends Hicks.

To safeguard electronic data, consider using a remote backup system, which works like regular tape backup, but files are stored on a remote server. “There are even free file storage Web sites to take advantage of,” says Hicks. “It’s a good idea to store your files on multiple secure servers (free and paid), since CDs can be damaged and servers can go down.”

Of course, make sure you back up your data regularly so that if you have to restore it, it will be current.

• Get employee contact information. Make sure you have every employee’s emergency contact information, including e-mail and cell phones.

• Develop a communication plan. Good communication is essential and should incorporate a variety of means. Meet with your employees and go over your emergency plans in detail. Make sure all employees know how and when they should expect to hear about work status, both before and following a storm. Consider issuing a wallet card detailing instructions on what to do in an emergency situation.

In a small company, you may want to appoint one person to call everyone if you decide to close your business because of a storm. In a larger company, develop a “telephone tree” in which several individuals are assigned a group of individuals to call others.

Other communication methods you might consider: periodic e-mails, a password-protected Web page, a call-in voice recording.

Don’t forget your customers and vendors in your communication planning. Customers and vendors distant from your location, in particular, may not be aware of a storm situation that affects your business and may affect them. Develop a plan to contact them if you will be out of operation.

• Assign tasks. The task list may include such things as turning off computers and removing all items from the floor. You may also want to put together teams of employees to help in the physical preparation of the building, such as boarding up windows. Keep in mind that some employees may have personal responsibilities with their homes and families. Ask for volunteers whenever possible.

• Prevent sewage backup. Backflow can be a problem in a flood. Consider working with a licensed plumber to install a backflow valve to prevent sewage backup.

If a storm is expected

When a storm approaches, take these action steps:

• Buildings. Even if you don’t own the building you do business in, take steps to protect your assets. Consider installing impact-resistant windows and door systems or plywood shutters.

• Signage, furniture, and decorations. If a storm is imminent, bringing these items inside will help you avoid loss and will protect property from flying object.

• Company vehicles. Put them in a garage or park them away from trees or other potential falling objects, if possible.

• Equipment. Place computers and important files on desk tops to protect them from seeping water.

• Generators. Power outages are common after hurricane. Depending upon the size of your company, consider investing in generators to provide power to run needed equipment.

• Internal shelter. In the event authorities warn to “shelter in place” because of a fast-approaching storm or a tornado, identify a safe place for employees to gather and wait the storm out.

 

SIDEBAR

Resources

A number of resources are available to small business owners to help you prepare for what some may call an “inevitable” weather event for northeast Floridians. One of the best resources is FloridaDisaster.org, www.floridadisaster.org/business, a Web site that “walks” you through developing a business disaster plan.

 

Other free resources on disaster planning are available to small business owners:

• Duval County Emergency Management, http://tiny.cc/jaxready. Among other items, you can find information on storm surge areas in Duval County.

• National Flood Insurance Program, www.floodsmart.gov. Information on flood insurance for your business.

• Institute for Business and Home Safety, www.ibhs.org. This Web site offers advice on preparing homes and businesses for hurricanes as well as other types of natural disasters.

• Federal ‘Ready’ Web site, www.ready.gov. This Web site details how to prepare for various types of disasters.

• Small Business Administration, . This site provides information on how the SBA can help in the event of a disaster.

 

SIDEBAR

Don’t forget tax and accounting in your emergency plans


How quickly your company bounces back after a hurricane depends on how much emergency planning you get done before disaster strikes. This means regularly backing up your computer data and recording information with each new
Ronnie Hicks, Esq.

Ronnie Hicks, Esq.

asset you acquire, says Ronnie Hicks, with Tax Defense Network.

Include in your emergency kit the following documents:

• IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return

• IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return

• IRS Publication 2194, Disaster Losses Kit for Individuals

• IRS Publication 584-B, Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook

 

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