Small Business: Operating during a disaster

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Forward thinking can help businesses keep operating in

Forward thinking can help businesses keep operating in the event of a natural disaster or business disruption, say experts. Spage's Pharmacy in St. James had no electrical power, phone or Internet after superstorm Sandy blew through, but it had a generator that helped the Lake Avenue business stay open. (Nov. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Last year's Tropical Storm Irene was enough of an eye opener for Lou Caravella, co-owner of Four Star Salon Services, for him to secure an alternate location in case another hurricane hit.

His instincts were right, and when superstorm Sandy knocked power out at his building in Hauppauge, he was able to continue operations from space he'd secured at the Continuity Centers in Woodbury, a disaster recovery facility for businesses. "I could have had my whole company there if need be," says Caravella, whose company distributes hair care products to salons.

Even though Caravella's business didn't lose power with Irene, he wasn't taking any chances if another storm hit, so he signed a contract with Continuity Centers in the fall of 2011.

It's this kind of forward thinking that can help businesses keep operating in the event of a natural disaster or business disruption, say experts.

Have a plan in place. "Businesses should have a continuity plan in place, even if it's just a simple template telling people where to go and what to do," says Patty Catania, chief operating officer of TAMP Systems in Merrick, which offers business continuity software and consulting. A plan should include who your suppliers and vendors are, home, cell and alternate numbers for employees, and protocol to follow if your facility or power is knocked out, she says.

Having a backup site can be critical, says Catania, who also uses Continuity Centers as her alternate location.

Continuity Centers usually has 125 work-space units at its Woodbury location, but chief executive Gregory Tellone estimated that the week following Sandy he had more than 300 work stations built there with the high demand for space. The company also dispatched mobile units and more than 100 generators to various companies after the storm.

When you're planning your recovery, you need to determine how many people you need up and running within 24 hours, 48 hours, etc., says Tellone, noting that all his work spaces, including those at locations in Westchester and Secaucus, N.J., are contracted out ahead of time.

The Regus Group, a flexible work-space provider with 480 locations nationwide including seven on Long Island, was able to place 15 companies that weren't existing clients in its various Long Island locations after Sandy hit, says Dan Perrin, senior director for workplace recovery for Dallas-based Regus.

One such company, Prism Visual Software Inc. in Port Washington, found Regus through an online search on the Tuesday night after the hurricane and booked space Wednesday morning at Regus' Lake Success location, says Andrew Kuneth, a vice president at Prism, which sells route accounting software and Android mobile applications. "For us it was a lifesaver," he says, adding they'll now book the space in advance of future storms.

Regus charges $150 to $450 per person per year for its workplace recovery plans.

Some businesses, such as a single-site restaurant or retail store, can find it hard to thoroughly prepare for a disaster if their facility is destroyed, says Alan Berman, president of DRI International, a Manhattan-based nonprofit business continuity organization. But they can still do some planning, such as backing up their customer data or transferring their phones to an alternate site so they can keep customers informed.

Get the word out. Communication is important, says Rob Basso, president of Advantage Payroll Services in Freeport. He used an e-newsletter, his website and social media pages to keep customers informed after Sandy, including providing a number they could call while his facility was briefly without power. The company also has a backup site in Maine for its data/call center.

"It worked really flawlessly," he said.

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