Washington, DC - Keep the doors open, equipment running and orders coming in. That’s what every business must do to meet payroll and build profits. But these three basic “musts” can become nearly impossible when a severe windstorm, flood or other hazard disrupts a community’s threads of commerce.
Small businesses, including start-ups, are especially vulnerable to suffering a crippling—and even fatal—blow when their communities end up in harm’s way. The Institute for Business and Home Safety has estimated that a fourth of small to mid-sized businesses never reopen after a major disaster. And the longer a business is sidelined, the greater the odds it will not recover. About 80 percent of businesses that are closed for a month stay that way.
Too often dismissed as fickle acts of fate, hazards of almost any variety can be planned for to improve the odds a business can survive, and even thrive, in their aftermath. Businesses that act to enhance their own resilience and contribute to community-wide efforts to do the same can avoid becoming another enterprise shuttered permanently in the wake of a disruptive event.
The vast majority of the nation’s 28 million owners of small businesses are aware of at least some of the steps recommended to help them avoid being added to this casualty list. Foremost among them are developing a business continuity plan laying out measures to maintain essential functions during a hazard event, and a disaster recovery plan specifying steps to resume interrupted operations.
Improving resilience (the capacity to prepare for anticipated hazards, adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions) encompasses and goes beyond these recommended measures for businesses. And at the community level, it requires sustained actions on many fronts, from households and individual business establishments and non-profit and government organizations to entire communities.
Resilience is a two-way street. Communities that move to build a less disaster-prone future also are strengthening the foundations of local business growth and future prosperity.
Creating a resilient community requires leadership, coordination, prioritization and integration of plans and actions. All of which can improve a community’s ability to continue or restore vital services in a more timely way and to build back better. By minimizing economic and social disruption, communities with resilience strategies make themselves more attractive to businesses and residents.
All of this should seem logical and desirable. But the “how” of building a resilient community might seem dauntingly complex. Fortunately, it’s not.
Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a Community Resilience Planning Guide that lays out a collaborative six-step process that towns, cities, counties and even campuses can follow to better manage their hazard risks and build resilience.
The new guide’s emphasis is on buildings and physical infrastructure systems from the perspective of the social and economic needs they support. This provides the context for making informed decisions on how to improve community resilience.
The guide also helps communities reckon with vulnerabilities stemming from dependencies among buildings and infrastructure systems—such as electric power and communications—which can result in cascading failures. Small businesses are especially vulnerable to prolonged power outages, interrupted communications, and lack of access to water and transportation routes—all of which are interconnected.
Business owners and managers typically are tuned in to local government decisions on zoning, taxes, roads and others that can affect their bottom lines and futures. Community resilience is part and parcel of these and other issues and should be addressed and integrated into the mix as communities make these decisions.
That’s why NIST’s new guide encourages community resilience planning to align with economic development, zoning and other local planning activities—including emergency response and management—that impact the buildings, utilities and other infrastructure systems upon which businesses depend. The guide is part of NIST’s larger efforts to build a nation of more resilient communities.
Entrepreneurs and advocacy organizations can help to raise awareness of the importance of improving resilience at the community level, and participate in resilience-strengthening efforts. NIST’s Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems and its companion “Guide at a Glance” (for those in a rush) can get them started on a path to improving their odds of surviving a disruptive event.
Learn more about NIST’s efforts to build a nation of resilient communities here.