Emergency Planning for Businesses — Legal & Practical Considerations
Most owners of small businesses spend little time thinking about what will happen if a major disaster strikes their region. You can use insurance to cover many types of damage to your business, such as fires, floods, or thefts. A business owner also may want to get liability insurance to cover lawsuits brought against their business. However, in addition to getting insurance coverage, you may want to be familiar with any types of natural disasters that you may expect to encounter. These may include hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, and blizzards, among others. Understanding the risks and developing a plan of action to deal with them can help your business survive a disaster if it strikes.
The IRS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offer guidance on how to prepare for disasters and protect your business to the extent possible. Local government agencies often provide counseling to businesses for how to handle emergencies as well.
Sources of Financial Aid
FEMA is the first place to contact if a disaster has struck your area. This government agency can assist you with medical expenses, food, and emergency housing. Also, you may be able to get loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) or the Department of Agriculture if your business has suffered severe damage to assets in an event that has been declared a disaster. These government agencies can assist you with severely damaged or destroyed business equipment and assets, as well as damage to real estate or personal property.
You may also want to investigate whether you can get additional disaster assistance loans through the government. Some of these loans are specific to certain types of businesses or business owners, such as Farm Emergency Loans and Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loans. However, other loans could apply to any type of business, such as Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Home and Property Disaster Loans. Economic Injury Disaster Loans apply to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and many private non-profit organizations that are in a declared disaster area and have suffered substantial economic losses as a result. Home and Property Disaster Loans apply not just to business owners but to anyone who owns or rents a home or owns personal property.
Business owners affected by disasters should be aware that they may fall under tax provisions that are designed to help them regain their financial footing. Meanwhile, employees of a business may receive disaster assistance to account for unemployment or displacement.
Regrouping From a Disaster
Business owners should refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for advice on how to clean up from disasters while avoiding exposure to hazards for your employees or you. The Center for Disease Control also operates a Health Studies Branch that can provide further information. Any hazardous spills and other environmental issues may require reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or other government agencies.
While you are probably eager to clean up debris and get your business running again as soon as possible, you should use common sense and act with extreme caution in the presence of hazards. You will want to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, contaminated water, and other potentially life-threatening hazards. When in doubt about whether something poses a risk, leave it to the specialists to clean up.
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