How to Help Your Business Prepare for and Cope with Natural Disasters
7 mins read

How to Help Your Business Prepare for and Cope with Natural Disasters

Bad weather and natural disasters, such as the severe winter storms that hit the central and northeastern U.S. in late December 2022, or the catastrophic flooding that affected millions of people in California in early January, cost lives and money.

This October, there were 25 weather and climate events. Each caused more than $1 billion in damage—not counting injuries and deaths. Major weather events can threaten homes, communities, and businesses of all sizes.


Westfield has gathered information from the Small Business Association, the Insurance Information Institute and other industry expert sources to detail how businesses can prepare for natural disasters that are common in their region and what resources they can use to bounce back. Preparing for the unknown can be daunting, but there are simple ways to get started. The first step is to identify the key processes that need to be maintained and develop backup methods for recovery. For example, creating a digital system for important documents can save your business from trouble.

Assigning a business continuity team—often current employees—will also ensure that proper recovery procedures are in place and will continue to update and review those methods over time. The business continuity team also helps the company pivot when external forces require a change in approach. The ability to shift priorities during a disaster is critical to a company’s success.

People walking through a blizzard.
Sambulov Yevgeny // Shutterstock

1 / 7

A snowstorm

Winter storms can hit any business in any state, but they are most common in the Midwest and Northeast. The Small Business Administration suggests putting together a disaster kit for your business. It should include rock salt to melt ice on driveways and sidewalks, portable heaters to keep key equipment from freezing, a list of employee cell phone numbers, and contact information for contractors who can repair the damage.

Update this information and other storm-related policies in your employee handbook. Note who is working in which locations and whether those who can’t work because of the storm—due to road closures, power outages, or other disruptions—will receive pay.

Person reviewing family disaster plan checklist.
Ekaterina_Minaeva // Shutterstock

2/7

Tornado

A tornado can strike anywhere, anytime. The swirling columns of air can throw cars, rip apart buildings, and knock out utilities in minutes. In 2022, the United States will see more than 1,400 tornadoes, up from 1,075 in 2020.

One of the easiest ways to prepare your business for a tornado is to provide employees with a safe shelter. You can also have a communication plan to notify employees of tornado threats in their areas and encourage employees to create personal or family disaster plans. Having a badge system that tracks which employees are in which buildings during the storm can help ensure that everyone is accounted for when the storm is over.

The street is flooded with cars.
mkfilm // Shutterstock

3/7

Flood

Flooding can spread quickly and doesn’t have to be deep to cause real problems. Six inches of water can cause problems with steering and braking — and a foot of water will lift most vehicles. Even a few inches of water can block exits from a building.

In addition to a comprehensive evacuation plan to keep employees and customers safe, one of the best ways to prepare a company for flood damage is to digitize operations. A flood can keep critical functions open if a company runs its HR, information technology, payroll, and benefits departments electronically. And keeping electronic copies, especially those stored in secure locations away from the flood-prone area, can prevent the loss of important documents.

Take an inventory of valuable property to give to insurance companies that need evidence to process claims. Also, document the damage and don’t throw anything away before contacting the insurance company and filing a report.

If flooding is imminent, owners of multi-story buildings can limit the damage by raising the elevator to the second floor and turning it off.

In the distance, you can see clouds of smoke rising from a forest fire, heading towards houses.
markmandersonfilms // Shutterstock

4/7

Fire

Fires can break out without warning and burn for weeks or even months. As a result, they can cause massive unforeseen financial losses: In 2021, one California restaurant lost more than $10,000 in food that went bad during an evacuation and couldn’t recover the costs through insurance.

In addition to causing property damage to homes and businesses, wildfires often necessitate road closures to allow firefighters access or to prevent endangerment of motorists.

The states most at risk for wildfires are in the West, but fires can break out anywhere. To prepare, make sure you have sprinklers, fire extinguishers, and other equipment, such as kitchen fire systems and emergency gas switches, and that your staff knows how to use them. Have an evacuation plan and enough supplies to provide shelter for your staff if necessary.

Large crack in side of concrete structure.
TA BLUE Capture // Shutterstock

5/7

Earthquake

Fire damage preparedness is an important part of a company’s disaster preparedness. For example, earthquakes can rupture gas lines, leading to a gas leak and fire. Earthquakes can also activate sprinkler systems and cause flooding, damaging property.

Businesses need a separate policy or rider for earthquake damage, because policies typically don’t cover it. Although earthquakes are most common in California and Texas, they can happen anywhere, especially in areas where major construction is underway.

A column of reddish-brown ash plume from the eruption of Hawaii's Kīlauea volcano rises high above the volcano.
U.S. Geological Survey // Getty Images

6/7

Volcanic eruption

Every continent has active volcanoes and many coastal countries, such as those in the Caribbean or Pacific Islands. Locating and designing buildings to reduce vulnerability to lava flows and ash fall is one way to ensure the safety of your business.

However, the effects of a volcanic eruption can extend far beyond the physical area affected, as ash spreads in the wind and disrupts ports or other parts of the global supply chain. Companies that identify processes and routes near active volcanoes can plan for changes in the event of an eruption.

Extreme winds and rains snap palm trees and flood buildings on the water.
FotoKina // Shutterstock

7/7

Hurricane

Each second of a hurricane can release as much energy as 10 nuclear bombs, making preparation incredibly difficult. No matter how well a company tries to prepare, hurricanes cost money. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost insurers more than $65 billion — and everyone else nearly another $100 billion in actual costs and lost business opportunities.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 caused more than $120 billion in damage. In 2021, a combination of 20 hurricanes and other storms caused $145 billion in damage.

Government and private investment firms are working to predict, monitor and warn residents of an approaching hurricane. Paying attention to local forecasts and emergency alerts can help businesses know whether to close their doors and wait or clean up and head to safer ground.