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Productivity

How to prepare your small business for disasters

Anne Da Cunha
Small Business Executive

Anne Da Cunha is the Small Business Executive for Telstra. She is passionate about the Success of Australian Businesses and in developing ways that Telstra can partner with them, to ensure they get all the business and technology solutions they need to thrive and be the innovators of Australia.

Anne Da Cunha
Small Business Executive

Anne Da Cunha is the Small Business Executive for Telstra. She is passionate about the Success of Australian Businesses and in developing ways that Telstra can partner with them, to ensure they get all the business and technology solutions they need to thrive and be the innovators of Australia.

Have you considered how you’d keep the lights on and the payments flowing if your business was affected by a disaster? It’s worth thinking about what you’d do if your work place was threatened by fires, flooding or a cyclone. Here’s how you can prepare your business to stay open and protect your livelihood.

Sydney SES Volunteer clearing broken tree after storm

In the case of an emergency, you’re unlikely to have much warning. Having a disaster plan for your business is a great way to make sure you have the tools in place to avoid disruption.

It’s a good idea to start working on a disaster plan for your business as early as possible, especially if you live in a part of Australia more prone to natural disasters.

Here’s what you can do in the weeks, days and hours leading up to a potential disaster. This is just a guide though – for a full checklist, take a look at one prepared by your State Emergency Service like this one from NSW

1.    Five months out

Summer is a key period for natural disasters, so it’s good to have everything in place well before the warmer months hit.

Digitise your business

Start by getting online and going digital. We saw during COVID-19 that those who had a well-established online business before lockdowns hit – or were able to quickly pivot – were well placed to weather the disruption. The same goes for businesses who’ve been affected by severe weather events. The sooner you digitise your business and build an online presence ahead of disaster season, the stronger your business continuity management.

That way, even if you can’t open your physical doors, you’ll still keep your digital doors open and continue to operate, support your customers and drive income. 

Not every business will be able to move fully online. But taking a step back to look at your operations allows you to see what could potentially go online ahead of a disaster to support the continued operation of your business, as well as enhance your businesses growth into the future.

2.    Five weeks out

A month or so out from disaster season, it’s time to organise back-up plans for your payment systems and communication devices.

Get to know your EFTPOS terminal

As many customers prefer to pay via EFTPOS, it’s worth taking the time to ensure your EFTPOS terminals are configured to use alternative connectivity in the event of a service disruption. EFTPOS terminals can be impacted by mobile network outages and power outages, with differing scenarios depending on exactly what occurs. 

In the case of a power outage, EFTPOS terminals will not work unless they have a back-up source of power. Where EFTPOS terminals can access back-up power, they’ll be able to continue operating as normal if the mobile network is still operating. But if the mobile network is also impacted, only terminals that have electronic fallback or use a Telstra enterprise satellite product will be able to continue operating.

In the case of a mobile network outage, where power otherwise remains available:

  • Terminals with wireless and Wi-Fi/ethernet capabilities will be able to toggle between the two connectivity options and should switch automatically to a Wi-Fi/ethernet connection where one is available.
  • Terminals with dual SIMs will be able to toggle between different mobile networks, provided they have SIM cards from different mobile network operators inserted.
  • Terminals with electronic fallback options will be able to continue processing transactions within certain payment limits, despite there being no mobile connectivity.

  • Planning ahead helps. Outages are inevitable, both planned and unplanned, and preparing ensures your business keeps on running smoothly.

By knowing your terminal, you may be able to connect it to another Wi-Fi network should you find one at your next temporary place of business. 

Consider a satellite phone or repeater device

Sometimes in a disaster, the traditional communications network can go out in your area. If you absolutely need to stay in touch to get your business going, you might consider a satellite phone.

It’s worth pointing out that satellite connectivity also has vulnerabilities. Signals can be affected by heavy clouds or storms and satellite dishes can be damaged by cyclones and bushfires.

You could also take a look at Telstra’s range of repeaters and extenders to see if one suits your needs. Legal network coverage extension devices amplify the existing network signal your mobile device receives, which extends the area that your device can work in. These devices can help you connect to the Telstra mobile network from further away than normally possible, or in areas where a signal may struggle to penetrate – such as indoors, or in hilly or dense terrain.

It’s important to note that boosters are illegal to own or operate on any network in Australia, and they can disrupt or even prevent others from making calls to emergency 000.

3.    Five days out

If you know there’s potential disaster conditions forecast this week, it’s time to get your business in order.

Back up your data

Store your important data, like contact information, registration and financial/payroll information, in cloud computing services.

Get a corded phone

A cordless fixed line phone is convenient, but remember, most cordless phones rely on electric power to operate, so you may lose the use of your landline during a power outage. A corded phone draws its electricity directly from the phone line (excluding fixed line phones on nbn) and can be used during a power outage.

If you use a fixed line phone on nbn, it will be unavailable during a power outage. It’s best to have a mobile phone or satellite phone handy for this instance, especially in remote areas.

Invest in an alternative charger

If you don’t already have one, purchase a phone charger that isn’t dependent on a power outlet. This could be a ‘power bank’ battery pack that can be charged from a power outlet prior to an event and used if grid electricity is unavailable, a portable solar panel charger or in-car charger.

4.    Five hours out

If you just received an emergency alert and you’ve only got hours to prepare, you can still take steps to make sure your business stays online.

Gear up

Business continuity management when you have limited time is about making sure you have the absolute basics to get back on your feet. You won’t be able to pack everything, but you can grab the essential gear.

Anything with crucial business data on it that can’t be backed up in a hurry should be secured or stowed with you – provided it’s safe to do so. That means hard drives or whole desktop computers. You likely won’t have time for anything else.

Charge your phone. Right now.

Every second matters when you need power. Anyone looking to charge their phone before heading out of the house knows this. And if you got a text recommending evacuation, you might not know when you’ll be near a working power point again.

Charge your phone on the highest wattage charger you can find nearby for as long as you can. Don’t forget to turn it on loud while you do this so you can hear calls and messages come through.

When you’re ready to leave, take the phone and the charger. You might not be able to find another one of these in a hurry if you’re evacuated.

Use local information sources

Social media accounts for your local authorities and emergency services will share crucial information. Your local broadcaster will also share information over the radio – make sure you have a battery-powered radio or car radio to listen to. 

If you'd like to learn more about how to prepare your business for a disaster, check out the websites listed below.

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