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Seven Steps to Get Your Business Ready For the Big One

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A big earthquake like the monster we've just witnessed in Japan gets smart entrepreneurs thinking: What if a big quake hit my business? As a survivor of three major quakes -- San Fernando, Northridge and Nisqually up in Seattle -- I can tell you it really pays to think ahead about quake preparedness.

And don't think you aren't susceptible if you live outside California, either. There are quake zones throughout the U.S.

Here are seven tips for improving your odds of coming through an earthquake with little or no business interruption:

1. Get insured. Even in quake-prone California, statewide insurer the California Earthquake Authority reports only 10 percent of properties are insured. Right after a major quake -- like now -- it may be harder to get, so be prepared to knock on a few doors. There's a popular myth that earthquake insurance doesn't matter because if a big quake hits, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, will ride to the rescue. Although FEMA can offer low-interest loans, it won't hand you cash. And it could take a while. Having earthquake insurance can help your business rebuild quickly.

An umbrella policy or standard business insurance that includes business-interruption insurance can be valuable here, too. Earthquake insurance only covers the cost of rebuilding, not the lost sales during the days -- or months -- you can't do business.

2. Have a disaster plan. Make sure employees can work on the business remotely, and then run practice drills every so often. Have everyone stay home, or meet at an agreed-upon alternate site. Also, make sure your data is accessible remotely and everyone has the necessary passwords. Set up a phone tree, complete with non-work numbers and email addresses, as well.

3. Secure your facility. Everyone in your company should know where the water and gas shutoffs are in your building and how to use them. Multiple people should know where keys are and how to set security alarms. They should also learn how the fire extinguishers work.

4. Locate an alternate site. If you have a home office and it was knocked out in a quake, consider where else you could set up shop. You could secure a nearby co-working location or possibly use the computer terminals at a hotel business center. Similarly, if you manufacture products, establish an alternate production site.

5. Call in a pro. Get your home evaluated by a contractor with a specialty in earthquake mitigation. Ask a local builders association for referrals.

6. Do it yourself. Of course, their recommendations could get pricey. But there are some low-cost measures you can take to secure your building and prevent further damage. Among other things, secure tall bookcases to the walls or consider buying a $40 kit at a hardware store.

7. Stock up. You never know when a disaster will strike. Keep plenty of water and food on hand -- even at the office.

Is your business ready for an earthquake? Leave a comment and tell us your plan.

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