Talking About Preparedness: Leave No Stone Unturned

It’s perfectly understandable why disaster preparedness might not be a front-burner issue for most small business owners. There are customers to meet, employees to manage, bills to pay.  But time and time again, it’s been proven that pushing the subject to a back burner is a recipe for disaster.

As a company that is committed to helping small businesses succeed— and as a nonprofit organization for which disaster preparedness, relief, and recovery are strategic priorities — Office Depot and the Office Depot Foundation uses a variety of channels to communicate this message.

The need to talk about disaster preparedness was driven home emphatically by a study commissioned by Office Depot in 2007. A survey of 2,500 business owners and decision makers found that

  • 71% of small businesses did not have a disaster plan in place,
  • 64% said that they did not need one, and
  • 63 % were confident that they would be able to resume business within 72 hours if impacted by a natural disaster − even though history shows this may be optimistic.

Indeed, according to The Hartford's Guide to Emergency Preparedness Planning, of those businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan, 43% never reopen; of those that do reopen, only 29% are still operating two years later.

To ensure that small businesses have ready access to information designed to help them prepare, Office Depot offers disaster preparedness strategies on a special section of its website, “Expecting the Unexpected,” as well as a downloadable brochure with additional information. Practical ideas for protecting employees and data are featured as are suggestions for building a disaster plan and links to resources offered by a variety of agencies and organizations. 

Office Depot retail stores in the United States also play a significant role in communicating the disaster preparedness message — and in helping small business owners get ready when natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tropical storms, are threatening various parts of the country.  Office Depot offers simple and affordable solutions that need to be part of any disaster prep checklist, including batteries, flashlights, surge protectors, battery backup, flash drives, and, of course, water.

The key message shared by Office Depot is that the most important step any business can take is to create a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. All that’s required are a few simple and inexpensive steps that can help business owners minimize or even prevent disruptions. Some quick tips for creating a disaster plan and preparing a business include:

  • Keep the plan simple and inexpensive— It should be easy for employees to follow and not costly to maintain or update in the coming years.
  • Update your employee, emergency, and key contact lists— People are irreplaceable assets, so create and update lists to be used during and after an emergency.
  • Back up and protect your data— Without data, businesses can’t recover. Back up your data regularly and store it off-site. An inexpensive CD/DVD could be the key to a business’ successful recovery.
  • Test the plan— At least annually, execute the plan to make sure it consistently meets the changing needs of the business and incorporate any updates.
  • Stock up on essential emergency supplies —Disaster preparedness is a wise investment; therefore be sure to stock up on basic and affordable supplies.

The Office Depot Foundation website,, also features links to disaster preparedness, relief and recovery resources from the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) Business Disaster Assistance and Recovery Program, SCORE, and the Disaster Resistant Business Toolkit among others. 

Another key way in which Office Depot and the Office Depot Foundation reach out to small businesses is through the Foundation’s continuing sponsorship of BCLC’s National Disaster Help Desk for Business.  This toll-free, 24-hour hotline — 1-888-MY-BIZ-HELP (888-692-4943) — provides essential information, expert guidance, and connections to invaluable resources at times when people often feel overwhelmed by the impact of a disaster. While the focus of the Help Desk is on disaster response and recovery, it also stands ready to assist businesses that want to be proactive in preparing for disasters. 

Make no mistake about it. Disaster preparedness is central to business survival. Not having a contingency plan or a backup system in place can cause a business to close its doors for good. We urge any company that interacts with small businesses to leave no stone unturned in emphasizing the importance of being ready for disasters — and don’t be shy about telling your customers how you can help them prepare.

BCLC's Disaster Help Desk is underwritten by the Office Depot Foundation.This article is part of the 2011 Disaster Annual Report, to be released in full this coming April.