Creating Your Online Business Disaster Plan

I’m a 2005 Hurricane Rita evacuee and fortunately made it through a hellish evacuation process and ensuing hurricane with hardly a scratch. Running from a hurricane and dealing with its landfall isn’t something I’ve ever had to do before, nor is it something I’d ever like to do again. However, as an solo business owner, I’m quite thankful that I have an online business.

The fact that I own a virtual company and can operate from anywhere that there’s electricity and phone service was of great help to me in this disaster. It was a primary factor in helping me reopen my business a scant 4 days after the landfall of Hurricane Rita when so many brick-and-mortar businesses were still shuttered for weeks after the storm.

As an online business owner, what can you do to make your business disaster-proof? It seems that we have an increasing number of hurricanes making landfall in the coastal states, and add to that an increased number of other types of natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, mud slides, ice storms, blizzards, etc. makes me think that there is no ideal location in which to operate a business. Accepting that natural disasters are here to stay, here’s what I learned from my hurricane evacuation that helped me get my business back up and running quickly:

1. Know the location of your vital papers.

You should be able to quickly put into a folder the following for you and your family:

–marriage license
–birth certificate for you and your children
–social security card
–bank account information, including bank routing number
–driver’s license or state ID card
–car title/mortgage info and insurance contact info
–house deed/mortgage info and insurance contact info
–apartment lease or copy of a utility bill and renters insurance contact info
–employee ID card

If you have documentation of your home contents, bring that information as well. In a disaster, you’ll be asked to prove where you live and that you are who you claim you are, especially when applying for disaster assistance. You may also have to initiate damage reports on property, so having those files at your fingertips will help you expedite the process.

2. Have an online backup of all of your computer data.

I back up my computer in two ways–to an external portable hard drive as well as to an online backup service. I use both because my files are my livelihood — I would be dead in the water without them — so I want to leave absolutely no room to lose my data. For my external backup, I use a 100 GB portable drive made by Seagate, and for my online backup, I have unlimited backup available through

You can also use an online office system, like Central Desktop or OfficeVilla to upload and store many of your data files, calendar events, or contacts you might need to access.

3. Create a file with vital contact information.

I copied a file with all of my usernames and passcodes for websites, bank accounts, etc. to my USB flash drive (a key chain-like device with 4 GB of memory) as well as the physical and email addresses and all phone numbers of friends, clients and family members — anyone I needed to contact during the evacuation period. I manage my passcodes using RoboForm2Go a portable version of my password manager software. You’ll also want to take along your children’s school contact info to be able to check on the current operating status of your child’s school, as well as local media website info. My lifeline in getting current information about my home city was through the websites of Beaumont’s newspapers and television and radio stations. If you keep your contact info in Outlook and want to create an online backup, you can do so through All you need to access your info in Plaxo is a computer and to know your username and password.

4. Know your required primary office/computer equipment

I had operated with a minimal amount of my office equipment during this time due to my being a house sitter for a friend for 2 months. So, upon receiving the mandatory evacuation order, I knew that to run my business, I needed my desktop PC, flat panel monitor, wireless mouse and keyboard, speakers and associated cords, modems, router, backup portable external hard drive, office telephone and associated cords, laptop computer, printer, box of software, and scanner. It sounds like a great deal of equipment, but I packed it all into 2 boxes from U-Haul (1 small and 1 medium box). I knew I could work for at least 2 months comfortably with just this equipment.

5. Know your client’s primary paper location

I have 2 sets of files — ones for the immediate short-term that I use frequently and my lateral file drawer files that are primarily reference files. I grabbed the contents of the two drawers of my 2-drawer file cabinet (which hold my immediate short-term files), all of which fit into one small U-Haul box.

6. Have a backup telephone plan.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for phone service for my business, as all of my clients are scattered across the US and in Canada. Just to be safe, I upgraded my cell phone plan, and had a prepaid calling card (purchased an AT&T calling card at at my disposal if I needed it. As luck would have it, my hotel offered an unlimited Internet access/long distance plan for an additional $1.88 per day, so I happily signed up for that, saving myself a fortune in phone calls and Internet service fees.

I now have Vonage as my phone service, so in the event I had to evacuate again, I could take my office phone and Vonage modem with me and have phone service at my office number by simply plugging in my Vonage modem to my new Internet connection.

7. Have a backup Internet access plan.

Since power restoration to my home was estimated at 2-8 weeks, I had to find temporary lodging. I looked for a hotel that offered high speed Internet access and was able to use their system for my Internet access. However, once I found the hotel, I also called the tech support of my DSL ISP and found the local dial-up numbers for the area in which the hotel is located. I never had to use the dial-up service, but it was good info to have. If you have cable or DSL Internet service, now is the time to discover alternate Internet access plans to be able to get online should your DSL or cable access be out-of-service. You should also know how to access your email online through your ISP if you don’t have access to your computer. If your ISP doesn’t offer a version of webmail, you can use this service free-of-charge,

8. Bring along adequate office supplies for a month.

I threw in pens, pencils, post-it notes, a calculator, stamps, envelopes, tape, stapler, paper clips, note pads, etc. that would last me at least a month while I was out of my office. I used a portable plastic file case to carry these items.

9., Outline your office procedures operation for ease of delegation

Instead of carrying your business operations info in your head or have it stored in various files across your computer, what makes more sense is to document all of your office procedures, as well as computer and client info, so that everything you need is in one document. I can then upload this doc to my Yahoo account, my backup files, or carry it with me on my USB flash drive.

10. Record damages with your camera/videocam

I wish I’d had a digital camera to record all that I witnessed during my evacuation from Hurricane Rita (I now own a Canon Powershot A630). My sister took tons of pics, but I would’ve loved to have had the same opportunity. More importantly, however, is the need for a digital camera to record damage to your home and property. In a wide-spread disaster, it can be at least a month, usually more, before your insurance adjuster will be able to assess damages to your property. In the meantime, however, you need to start repairs, like placing a tarp on your roof, boarding up broken windows, removing downed trees from your house or yard, or cleaning your refrigerator of spoiled food. In many cases, your insurance will cover the repairs or food replacement, but you need to carefully document the “before” scenario in order to receive compensation for your loss.

Don’t let a natural disaster destroy your business. Take some time now to prepare your disaster-readiness plan, and get back into business as soon as you can!

Source: Donna Gunter