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Smart planning can help you keep your business running if disaster strikes. You’ll want to take the right steps to prevent and prepare for disaster, and know where to get aid if disaster strikes.

Emergency preparedness

An estimated 25 percent of businesses don’t open again after a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety. Protect your small business by identifying the risks relevant to your location, both natural and man-made. Then, keep your plan of action updated.

Preserve your equipment and business records by referencing this IRS guide on protecting your information before an emergency strikes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also offers an emergency preparedness checklist and toolkit.

Preparing for a Disaster (Taxpayers and Businesses)

Planning what to do in case of a disaster is an important part of being prepared. The Internal Revenue Service encourages taxpayers to safeguard their records. Some simple steps can help taxpayers and businesses protect financial and tax records in case of disasters.

Listed below are tips for individuals and businesses on preparing for a disaster.

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Take Advantage of Paperless Record keeping for Financial and Tax Records

Many people receive bank statements and documents by e-mail. This method is an outstanding way to secure financial records. Important tax records such as W-2s, tax returns and other paper documents can be scanned onto an electronic format.

Be sure you back up your electronic files and store them in a safe place. Making duplicates and keeping them in a separate location is a good business practice. Other options include copying files onto a CD or DVD (THUMB DRIVE). Also, many retail stores sell computer software packages that you can use for record keeping.

When choosing a place to keep your important records, convenience to your home should not be your primary concern. Remember, a disaster that strikes your home is also likely to affect other facilities nearby, making quick retrieval of your records difficult and maybe even impossible.

Document Valuables and Business Equipment

The IRS has disaster loss workbooks for individuals ( Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook) and businesses ( Publication 584-B, Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook) that can help you compile a room-by-room list of your belongings or business equipment. This will help you recall and prove the market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims.

One option is to photograph or videotape the contents of your home and/or business, especially items of greater value. You should store the photos with a friend or family member who lives away from the geographic area at risk.

Check on Fiduciary Bonds

Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if they have a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

Continuity of Operations Planning for Businesses

How quickly your company can get back to business after a disaster often depends on emergency planning done today. Start planning now to improve the likelihood that your company will survive and recover. Review your emergency plans annually. Just as your business changes over time, so do your preparedness needs. When you hire new employees or when there are changes in how your company functions, you should update your plans and inform your people.

There are real benefits to being prepared for disasters. The following preparedness strategies are common to all disasters. You plan only once, and are able to apply your plan to all types of hazards.

  • Get informed about hazards and emergencies and learn what to do for specific hazards.
  • Develop an emergency plan.
  • Learn where to seek shelter from all types of hazards.
  • Back up your computer data systems regularly.
  • Decide how you will communicate with employees, customers and others.
  • Use cell phones, walkie-talkies, or other devices that do not rely on electricity as a backup to your telecommunications system.
  • Collect and assemble a disaster supplies kit. Include a portable generator.
  • Identify the community warning systems and evacuation routes.
  • Include required information from community and school plans.
  • Practice and maintain your plan.

Update Emergency Plans

Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time and so do preparedness needs. Individual taxpayers should make sure they are saving documents everybody should keep including such things as W-2s, home closing statements and insurance records. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

Make sure you have a means of receiving severe weather information; if you have a NOAA Weather Radio, put fresh batteries in it. Make sure you know what you should do if threatening weather approaches.

Count on the IRS

Immediately after a casualty, you can request a copy of a return and all attachments (including Form W-2) by using Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return (PDF).

If you just need information from your return, you can order a free transcript by calling (800) 829-1040 or using Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return (PDF). Requests for Transcripts are also available using the online and mail options found on the Get Transcript page. Transcripts are available for the current year and returns processed in the three prior years. IRS.gov is an indispensable resource as you prepare for and recover from disaster.

Specific disaster checklists and tips

Focus on disasters that pose a realistic risk to your small business. Consult the following resources to lessen the financial impact of disasters and reopen your business quickly.

Topic Resource Tips
Hurricanes
Winter Weather
Earthquakes
Tornadoes
Wildfires
Floods
Cyber Security

The Small Business Administration also offers emergency preparedness training with a self-paced overview of SBA’s disaster assistance programs, resources and regulations.

Get financial assistance after a disaster

When a disaster hits your small business, first contact FEMA to apply for financial assistance. They can provide money for housing along with other personal expenses including food, clothing and medicine.

The SBA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide low-interest loans for damaged and destroyed assets in a declared disaster. These include repair and replacement costs for real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory, and business assets.

Disaster assistance loans

Other sources of disaster aid

Disaster unemployment assistance helps individual employees while they’re unemployed due to a disaster, and flood recovery assistance can help workers displaced by flooding.

Businesses in federally declared disaster areas could qualify for special tax provisions for financial recovery. The Farm Service Agency also provides a disaster assistance guide for farmers and ranchers after natural disasters.

Disaster cleanup

Take precautions to avoid injury or illness occurring in the cleanup process following a disaster. The wide range of hazards range from downed power lines and contaminated waters to hidden molds and toxins.

Disasters are magnified by their consequences on health and health services, so the Center for Disease Control (CDC) serves as an important resource through its Health Studies Branch. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published cleanup tips specifically for hazards during natural disaster recoveries.

If you encounter hazardous material spills or discharges, call the National Response Center, and contact the National Pesticide Center if applicable. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines reporting for spills and environmental violations.

More assistance

Visit FEMA to find emergency management agencies in your state.

For more emergency preparedness advice, visit ready.gov/business or contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

You can also receive local business counseling to determine the best way to prepare for emergencies and the next step when disaster strikes.