Photo by Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce

A 2012 study of small businesses revealed that many of them are unprepared for natural disasters.

A 2012 study of small businesses revealed that many of them are unprepared for natural disasters.

In making our communities more fire adapted, we often focus on reducing wildfire risk to homes and neighborhoods in the wildland-urban interface.  But the potential for other values at risk to be impacted, such as businesses, is also likely to be significant in many communities. Recovering from such impacts can be extremely challenging, particularly for small businesses.

The impacts to businesses from a wildfire disaster can be both direct and indirect. Direct impacts may include structural damage, equipment and/or inventory losses, staff evacuation or displacement, and financial losses. Indirect business impacts typically result from limited access to a business due to road closures, utility outages, limited transportation of goods necessary for the businesses to continue functioning, and reduced distribution chains. Market impacts such as a loss of customers may also affect businesses during a disaster.

Despite being the backbone of many local economies, many small businesses unfortunately lack the preparation for a natural disaster and are consequently limited in their ability to recover. A December 2012 study of 600 small businesses revealed that 74% of small businesses do not have a recovery plan, and 84% do not have natural disaster insurance. Failure to plan for short-term and long-term needs following a disaster impedes the likelihood that businesses can mobilize quickly enough to return to normal operations.

The good news is that there are a growing number of free online resources and best practices to help small businesses better plan for and recover from wildfire disasters. In January, the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) released a short report, Case Studies in Small Business Finance Following a Disaster. This report illustrates strategies that economic developers and communities have used to help small businesses recover financially after a disaster. Although focused on a variety of disasters, the strategies are presented to be easily transferable for other communities, regardless of the disaster type. Many of these case studies draw on partnerships between local non-profit organizations, public agencies, and private sector institutions or businesses.

This and many other resources are available through Funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), this website is a one-stop shop for public and private stakeholders seeking to rebuild their local economies after a disaster as well as assisting the business community in preparing for a disaster.  It contains tools, event announcements, opportunities to connect with peers through social media groups, and insight into topics such as navigating the federal system in a post-disaster environment.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), a Fire Adapted Communities Coalition member, provides another relevant online resource. Business owners looking for cost-effective ways to implement risk reduction strategies with limited outside assistance will find a plethora of tips and information, including a business continuity toolkit Open For Business-EZ (OFB-EZ). This toolkit is designed to help small businesses focus on planning for any type of interruption, and helps business owners create customized recovery plans.

To what extent have you incorporated businesses in your wildfire planning? With so many free online resources now available, the best time to start working on wildfire preparedness and post-disaster recovery with small businesses in your community is today!

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