disaster-strikes.jpgSwine flu. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Wildfires. The sudden death of your server.

Business disasters come in many forms, and like death and taxes, it's sort of inevitable that you'll be confronted with some variety of disaster at some point. The question is, what's your game plan for dealing with them?

If you haven't asked yourself how your business would keep going if half your employees came down with swine flu at the same time, now's the time to ask that one, because that problem is already here. At Washington State University's hometown of Pullman, Wash., for example, this week more than 2,000 people were out with the flu. And we're not expecting vaccine for this charming bug to be available for at least several more weeks, possibly too late to make a difference.

To give you a quick crash course, disaster planning falls into a few basic categories:

Replace your people. Who could sub in for your workers if needed? It might pay to offer a few extra job applicants a paid training day in case you ever need them.

Safeguard and access your data. The New York Times recently reported that data loss is the most common business disaster. What's your backup system? Can your home computer run your business functions, or your laptop? It might be worthwhile to find a server company you could use in a pinch.

Communicate with workers, vendors and customers. If you don't have a phone tree in place with a list of all vital home and cell phone numbers, and haven't done a dry run on using it, for shame. They really come in handy. For instance, when I wrote for the Puget Sound Business Journal, we needed to use ours after the Nisqually Earthquake hit in 2001. Brick buildings were down near the office in downtown Seattle and transit was difficult. Because we'd practiced, we were able to be in touch and decide who would go out and cover that story instead of all of us running to the site. As a result, most of us were able to carry on from home, filing for our website and getting stories up despite the logistical problems.

If you haven't done disaster planning, now is the time--it's even National Disaster Planning Month. And there are good resources out there to help you plan: The SBA has a guide, as does the federal government at Ready.gov.