One Year Later: Superstorm Sandy Lessons for Small Business

Driving in floodThe TV images just keep on coming: Individuals, families and businesses making herculean efforts to clean up and rebuild. Areas ravaged by Superstorm Sandy slowly coming back to life. But also many, one full year later, still struggling.

October 25 marks 12 long months since Superstorm Sandy blew through the Northeast. You’d think at the very least, weather-related disaster planning would have been kicked into high gear, with businesses, especially, better prepared for the next big one. But surprisingly, a new survey from cloud solutions provider Carbonite says that small businesses are still at risk for downtime and data loss following natural disasters. In fact, according to the survey, although more than 40 percent of small businesses in the tri-state area hit by Sandy think they’ll be hit again by natural disaster in the next year, only 22 percent feel prepared.

Downtime and data loss can devastate small businesses. Nearly a third said they’d never be able to recover or recreate important business data. Think about business bank accounts. Carbonite said small businesses would lose nearly $3,000 a day if they were unable to operate. That’s nearly $50,000 in a little over two weeks! Despite the scary stats, more than two-thirds of small businesses have not created a disaster plan, laboring under the (often false) assumptions that insurance will cover more than it actually does. Traditional insurance, by the way, does not cover data loss. The good news: Nearly three-quarters back up their data electronically. The bad news: Sixty-three percent do it on site, with external hard drives or servers that a natural disaster would wipe out. Only 39 percent use the cloud to back up data.

So one year later, business owners have taken some lessons from Sandy, but maybe not nearly enough. contributor Sunday Steinkirchner owns B&B Rare Books in lower Manhattan and has first-hand experience with how Sandy and its aftermath affected small business owners. Here are her lessons from that experience:

    • Have insurance. Steinkirchner says she always worried about the safety of her inventory, followed by personal health and safety. Luckily, having adequate and current insurance helped her relax a bit and focus on other things. Otherwise a disaster like Sandy would have bankrupt the business. To business owners who don’t carry insurance, she says just listen to the many “uninsured horror stories” that are out there.


    • Listen to the powers that be. Don’t dismiss or downplay weather predictions. Pay attention, and get going—early—on preparing for the worst.


    • Rely on colleague relationships. Business associates reached out to Steinkirchner immediately, enabling her to regroup, conduct business, even partner up on some things. The power of working together lifted her spirits and gave her options she wouldn’t have had otherwise.


    • Rely on customer relationships. Customers also started calling right away, offering help and strengthening the relationships that Steinkirchner had so carefully cultivated.


    • Give back. Steinkirchner says she felt lucky to be able to donate time, resources and funds to the relief effort and would open her doors in a heartbeat to colleagues in the future. So preparing for a disaster is more than collecting supplies. It is also things like keeping financial records and relationships in good order—things that will help get your business back on its feet that much quicker.

There have been other disasters besides Superstorm Sandy across the U.S., which have also hit small businesses hard in all kinds of ways. To help business owners plan and execute those plans, FedEx and the Red Cross put together tips on disaster preparedness which include everything from having necessary safety equipment to having a written emergency plan with detailed steps for continuity—getting your business up and running again. The Red Cross also offers a free Ready RatingTM program to help all kinds of organizations, businesses included, prepare for disasters and emergencies with tools, resources and information. Click here to join and for more information.

Disaster planning experts say small businesses should be looking at three broad questions:

    • What are we going to do if disaster strikes?


    • Once a disaster or emergency has occurred, how will we assess the damage and take the necessary steps to get back up and running?


    • How do we plan for the next disaster?

Although data security and recovery needs to be central, there’s so much more: an evacuation plan, backup power and physical security to name a few. You might consider a collective or neighborhood plan. And don’t forget employees who will need a clear understanding of things like time off/getting paid during recovery.

Image courtesy of jiggoja /

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