Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Surviving the next disaster

October 11, 2010

Summary: This month, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® asked Scott Brothers, president and CEO of the Insuracenter, to answer a question from a reader wondering how he should safeguard his business from a natural disaster.

Question: With all of the dramatic changes in our weather patterns, I’ve been worrying about my carwash. What’s the best way to protect my business from a natural disaster?

Scott Brothers: All we need to do is listen to a newscast or read a newspaper and we realize it doesn’t always happen to someone else. Each of us is potentially subject to the next disaster.

Because of this, more and more businesses have seen the need to create a disaster plan. When a storm hits your community or a business burns to the ground in a neighboring town, people take notice.

It is too close for comfort. It is time to formulate a disaster plan.

If it hits you, it’s too late to do so.

Planning ahead
Getting back into a position to continue your business and to take care of your customers is a major concern. If you are out of operation for an extended period of time, your business may be the next failure statistic.

Purchasing insurance can help reduce the financial loss, but being prepared to get back into operation as soon as possible is necessary to prevent “starting over” in building your customer base and maintaining a profitable bottom line.

You don’t need to invest a lot of capital or engage a disaster-planning expert to put together an effective plan. By following just a few basic steps you can be back up and going sooner than your unprepared competitor.

Your disaster plan needs to fit your method of doing business, but should include at a minimum:

1. Life safety
Personal safety is the first priority in putting together any plan. Every business, large or small, should have an evacuation plan and basic first-aid supplies.

It is critical to know how to get people out of your building quickly and safely. Post safety signs around the building, reminding employees and customers of what to do in case of fire, earthquake, flood, tornado, etc. Not only will it provide important information to your employees, but it also is a good morale booster; it shows your employees you care.

Be sure after you formulate your plan to have a practice drill or two. It will help iron out the wrinkles and make you and your staff comfortable that the plan is more than a piece of paper; it is workable.

2. Back up files
With the exception of bodily injury to employees or customers, the loss of business information could be the most devastating thing that might happen.

If your records are kept on computers, back up the files every day and remove them from the building. Most disaster experts recommend removing backup tapes at the end of every workday.

If your records are kept manually, duplicate records should be kept off premises. For example, if you have purchased business income insurance, you will need these records to validate your loss of income that will facilitate a quicker claim settlement.

It’s a hassle, it’s inconvenient, but you have to do it. Too often it takes the loss of data to make a business become serious about backup.

After a disaster, there will be no extra time to do what you can do now in the regular course of your business.

3. Phone numbers
No written catastrophe plan can be successful without lists of telephone numbers for employees. Every business also needs a systematic way to reach its employees. You need an orderly method to reach all of the staff. First, to make sure everyone is okay, and second, to see what his or her personal needs are.

The disaster plan needs to list every employee’s home phone number, as well as cell phone, or at least a number to leave word for the employee.

The list needs to include information about who is to contact whom in a disaster. Be sure to include two people to contact each staff member.

In a major disaster, your employees may be personally affected in addition to your business. The second caller is like having “Plan B” already in place.

A good disaster plan should also list the phone numbers of all essential services and designate who is to make calls. Put in writing which of the employees should contact vendors to provide necessary services and supplies.

Again, for every person having duties, there should be a backup person in case he can’t handle those duties due to personal situations.

Keep it simple
You have to concentrate on what is likely to happen. Some of our businesses are more subject to natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes.

Depending on your business location and size, you may find it appropriate to create larger or smaller written documents spelling out what constitutes a catastrophe and how you will handle these events.

These will, of course, vary in scope and cost, but if you are in a region that lives under an annual threat of devastation, it’s appropriate.

An elaborate plan is not always best. People are going to have enough on their minds. It is important for them to be able to find quickly what they’re supposed to do next.

Stay flexible
Contingency planning experts stress the need to stay flexible in a catastrophe. Every event has its own dynamics and may not play out in the same manner as projected. Your ability to remain in business after a catastrophe will come down to how quickly you can recover and serve your customers. Are you prepared?

If you don’t have a plan already in place, now is the time to make the effort today to plan for tomorrow. It really is not a matter of if there will be disasters, but a matter of when and where.

Here is a basic 7-step checklist to get you started:

  • Prepare for the worst probable disaster in your geographic area;
  • Formulate an evacuation plan;
  • Back up data files and take them off premises;
  • Make an inventory list of critical resources;
  • Distribute phone numbers and addresses of your employees and appoint contact persons;
  • Divide responsibility. Who will contact the power company? The phone company? The insurance company? and
  • Stay flexible. Even the best-laid plans can’t cover every contingency.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Prepare today.

A contingency plan will not only help the odds of your business surviving a disaster but it can boost morale by showing staff members you, as their employer, care about their well-being.

The better prepared you are the more likely it is that you will be a survivor.

Scott Brothers is the president and CEO of Joplin, Missouri-based The Insurancenter. Celebrating 20 years (1986 – 2006) serving the carwash industry, The Insurancenter is the leading writer of carwash insurance nationwide.