Emergency management agencies at the state and local level proclaimed the start of the severe weather season in late February and early March, and Mother Nature validated the concern with nasty weather in early March.

Some took notice including schools, a few in the news media, and a scattering of the so-called general public.

There’s one group usually so busy earning their daily bread that they often overlook a catastrophe inevitability just waiting to strike. It’s the small business owners who are legion across every state who don’t have the resources of the major retail, business and industrial powerhouses. The big guys can afford to have and practice sophisticated disaster plans led by risk managers and others who are paid to plan ahead for bad situations.

Fortunately there are very good resources out there for the so-called “mom and pop” shops, boutiques, laundries, restaurants and small consultancies that dot the landscape.

For starters we, who so firmly believe that bad things won’t happen to us, must consider three main business objectives that revolve around continuity planning. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), these issues are:

· Protect people which means employees and visitors as well as property

· Identify how to get critical business operations running as quickly as possible

· Minimize the amount of down-time so you don’t lose customers/clients to competitors

Is that all? Actually, there is a very well thought out program to help guide the small business owner through the steps to make sure your business is as protected as it can be from potential disaster.

It’s called Open For Business® and available free online at http://www.DisasterSafety.org. There’s a link on the Home Page.

Some of the basic planning steps include, but are not limited to:

· Identify the potential impacts that threaten the business and their potential severity

· Put a framework in place for building resilience

· Create response procedures to prevent chaos and get the business quickly going again

· Make a well-thought-out business recovery plan

I have been surprised by the number of business owners I speak with who never get around to making regular back-ups of their data and consider where those back-ups should be stored. Just like not keeping the original of a home inventory in your home should it be destroyed, data back-ups must be made frequently and safely stored off-site and/or online.

The structure of your business location, whether in a home, an office complex, a shopping center or a free-standing building, presents its own set of concerns that must be considered in case of a catastrophe.

Safety and emergency procedures are vital for the business operator, customers and visitors as well as employees who should know what to do and when in a variety of potential situations.

Something as simple as a power outage can get your attention even for a few minutes or an hour, so the owners must think in much bigger terms as to who does what and when.

Think about it. It’s not just thunderstorms or tornadoes or hurricanes. What about the potential for a pandemic, or an underground natural gas supply line explosion such as what happened in California recently. How many businesses never thought they’d be flooded out until the water was knee deep?

Communication with employees, customers and vendors cannot be overstated, as are other issues such as inventory replacement or even protection of your property and goods after a disaster.

Open For Business® is a must-view, and using the materials provided can make a huge difference in how you and your business fair in a disaster situation.

The author, David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by e-mail at dcolmans@giis.org.