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Take steps today so your business isn’t derailed by a disaster tomorrow

Idahoans are no strangers to the threat of natural disaster, given the large number of wildfires raging across our state this summer. Businesses in Mountain Home, for example, were evacuated in July after lightning sparked the Benwalk fire.

If a fire or other natural disaster hit your business, would you be prepared to react? September is National Emergency Preparedness month, and it’s a great time to assess your company’s emergency action plan.

“Small businesses that don’t have a plan in place generally don’t survive after a disaster, whether it’s a flood or a tornado,” noted David Paulison, former executive director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in an interview with the National Underwriters Online News Service.

In fact, the Small Business Administration has found 45 percent of businesses that have had a large fire or some type of water damage are out of business within two years.

At Zions Bank, we have a full-time staff dedicated to business continuity activities. Some of the key components of our plan include:

• Rally points and recovery locations. For every location we have two “rally points” — one near and one far — where people would assemble in the event of a building evacuation. If the building is inaccessible, employees are directed to report to work at a recovery location to resume normal business operations.

• Call tree and vendor list. We use the calling tree to verify that all employees have made it to safety in case of an emergency. We also contact vendors to let them know about the emergency.

• Emergency kit. This includes items such as blankets, flashlights, batteries and first aid items.

• Forms kit. For Zions Bank, this kit includes all the forms we would need to run the branch or department without access to computers.

Once a quarter, we review all aspects of the plan to make sure they are up-to-date and feasible. Employees are encouraged to review and update their contact information, and supplies from the emergency kit are replaced where necessary.

On an annual basis, we create a test scenario to practice the steps we would take in an emergency. Following are some guidelines for creating an effective test for your business:

• Allow all employees to have input. These discussions can uncover ideas not previously identified.

• Provoke people to think by asking questions rather than telling them what to do.

• Talk about what risks are in your area for the given scenario. For example, if the scenario is a severe winter storm, are there large trees or overhead power lines around the building? If so, discuss safety should power lines fall.

• Think all the way through the scenario. It is not only about acknowledgment of the situation, but also the discussion to determine the solution to several issues that could arise during the scenario.

• Have someone take notes during the meeting to document the testing process and resulting feedback.

Encourage and assist your employees to be prepared at home as well as in the office. The more prepared our employees are at home, the faster they will be able to return to work and assist us in supporting the community as a whole in case of a disaster.

Finally, think about whether your business’s financial house is in order. An online banking platform will allow you to access your accounts from any computer in the world. You can issue a stop payment or wire transfer, or run payroll for employees.

Do you have emergency funds available to purchase supplies or equipment, or relocate your business temporarily? Be prepared by establishing a line of credit, or a credit card with a generous limit, in advance.

For help establishing a business continuity plan visit www.ready.gov/business

If your business has already been affected by a natural disaster, you may qualify for a special SBA disaster loan. Call (800) 659-2955 or visit www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance for information.

Take steps today to ensure that you and your employees are prepared for any emergency. And remember, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Toni Nielsen is President, Western Idaho Region, Zions Bank.

About Toni Nielsen