Commentary: Majority of Alaska small businesses lack disaster plan

1 in 4 businesses won’t re-open after major disaster

By Jeremy Field
Regional Administrator, Pacific Northwest
U.S. Small Business Administration

The data is staggering: an estimated one in four businesses won’t reopen after a major disaster.

The economic impact is crippling: the loss in revenues, inventory, property, wages and even jobs has an incredible ripple effect on local economies and global supply chains.

The human impact is devastating: the stress and loss that comes from a disaster can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Yet, studies show an estimated two out of three small businesses – or in some studies as high as three out of four – don’t have an emergency plan in place. As we’ve experienced firsthand with the Nov. 30 earthquake last year and the current wildfires across the state, it’s not a matter of if a disaster will strike, it’s a matter of when.

Being prepared for any kind of emergency means a business will rebound sooner with less impact to its financial reserves. Since September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, there is no better time than now to take steps to prepare:

• Review your hazard and flood coverage to ensure your policy is in effect before a disaster strikes.

• Keep your insurance policy information, phone numbers for your insurance agent and the claims department handy.

• Know who you can call to help you clean/rebuild your business and have a restoration plan in place so you can focus on the task of quickly reopening your business.

• Keep an updated list of all your employees’ contact numbers and email addresses to ensure safety, as well as keeping everyone in the loop about the recovery progress.

• Obtain a line of credit or have enough cash to run your business for at least three months.

• Move your important business records, personal memorabilia and anything that’s irreplaceable to an offsite location. Save as much as you possibly can to the cloud.

Preparedness cannot be stressed enough, but once disaster hits the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance has staff on the ground within days to coordinate federal, state and local recovery efforts.

Many people I talk to are surprised to learn that in the wake of a declared disaster, the SBA assists in the rebuilding and economic recovery of a community by providing affordable, timely loans to businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, homeowners and renters to cover uninsured losses.

For businesses of all sizes and private non-profit organizations, the SBA provides up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged real estate, leasehold improvements, furniture and fixtures, inventory, and machinery and equipment. Economic Injury Disaster Loans are also available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private non-profit organizations that have suffered economic injury caused by a disaster. These loans provide working capital to a business or organization until normal operations can resume.

While a key component to the SBA mission is to help small businesses recover following a disaster, we also want to mitigate that loss. I urge Alaska small businesses to not become a sobering statistic. Take the time this month to put an emergency plan in place using the many no-cost resources at your disposal. It’s an investment of your time that will have exponential returns.

Jeremy Field is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Pacific Northwest Region which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses with resources to start, grow, expand or recover.