If you're like most small business owners, your company is your livelihood. Protecting your organization and all that it takes to run it is critical. Oftentimes, much effort goes into crisis prevention, but little is done to plan for recovery. Below, you'll find useful tips and information to help your small business not only prevent but recover from one of the most common and devastating disasters a company can suffer: fire.
Fires can often be underestimated, as they begin small but possess the potential to grow enormous in a short expanse of time. The damage fire causes is typically two-fold. Obviously, flames consume everything they touch, reducing objects to ash and corrupting the integrity of larger structures. Few people, however, consider how much damage can potentially occur as a result of smoke.
Smoke is attracted to cool areas and rises, so it travels through vents, plumbing, and any other openings in order to ascend and damage higher areas. Smoke from fire causes two main problems: soot stain and odor. Anything left untouched by flame is often rendered useless by smoke in one of these two ways. First, any exposed walls, floors, or furniture can be stained by soot. Second, everything else is likely to be ruined by the smell of smoke. Things like carpet and upholstery trap and absorb the horrible odor, and it's very difficult to completely rid furniture, computers, art – even the building itself – of the lingering stench. Additionally, sometimes toxic chemicals are produced as a result of different materials reacting together when heated by fire. Part of your recovery plan should include a screen for toxic chemicals before any form of fire restoration is attempted.
In order to prepare for such a disaster, many companies engage in what is known as “disaster prevention planning.” This includes not only fires but floods, hurricanes, and other natural or unforeseen disasters that may occur.
The best way to protect your small business from fire damage is to be aware of potential fire hazards and take the necessary precautions to make sure a preventable fire doesn't ruin your company. Obviously, contacting a local authority on fire safety for recommendations specific to your company is a great first step. Small business owners should also consider working closely with a fire restoration or disaster prevention specialist.
The two most common sources of a fire in a workplace are two simple ones to avoid in the first place. First, do not keep candles at the workplace. These are notorious fire starters. Second, don’t overload the electrical outlines in the building. Use surge protectors and multiple outlines to avoid creating a fire hazard.
Fire insurance is a must. Most property insurance policies cover loss in the event of fire but often not enough to cover all damages. Know what your policy covers, and always insure for 100% of the business value. Make a point to review your policy annually, and use an independent appraiser to assess the company's value each year. If you need to, add supplemental fire coverage to your policy. Never settle for partial coverage just to pay lower premiums because if you ever do fall victim to fire damage, you'll be incredibly sorry. Also note that certain valuables and documents will not be covered under the property policy, so you'll need to insure these items individually. If you're particularly concerned, make a video of the building, property, and valuables in the event you'll have to dispute any claims for losses. Additionally, if your business is located in an older facility, consider adding coverage for rebuilding according to current codes.
Fire Damage Recovery
Finally, in the event of a small business disaster, like a fire, it's important to have a disaster recovery plan. Typically, this is a formally drafted plan detailing the steps taken after the occurrence of a disaster. These plans usually include detailed contact information for employees, clients, and vendors; alternative methods and locations for conducting business; and any critical resources to be recovered.
Specifically, in the event of a fire, companies should work closely with a disaster recovery service before and after the fire. This not only ensures the company takes appropriate precautions to prevent such an occurrence but greatly aids the process of recovery.
If you are ever in a situation where you encounter a fire first-hand, respond quickly and calmly. For small fires, locate the nearest fire extinguisher and use as directed. Immediately call 9-1-1. If the fire is beyond your capacity to control, evacuate the area quickly and safely, and again, alert local fire and rescue units as soon as possible.
~Richard McNeal, 2009