In a perfect world, every day is 70 degrees and sunny. There is abundant foot traffic. The cloudless sky and comfortable temperature create perfect conditions for patio seating and sidewalk sales. Neither you, your staff, or your supplies have any problems getting to your business’ location. While there will be plenty of days like these, there is also the opposite: inclement weather and other disruptive natural phenomena. Snowstorms, floods, hurricanes, wildfire smoke, even excessive heat, create unsafe conditions for your guests, staff, and can cause damage to your storefront, necessitating significant repairs and investment.

Some forms of natural events, like earthquakes and flash floods, can be hard to predict. Others are forecasted, but it’s still difficult to foresee the weather’s intensity and duration and tough to prepare at the last minute. Climate change means extreme weather incidents, like wildfires, will become more frequent and more intense depending on your geographic location, changing the way we prepare for extreme weather. According to a 2024 climate report from the James Beard Foundation, the global average annual record of storms has increased by 19%, with floods increasing by 23% and wildfires increasing by 29%.

The good news? There are many things you can do to prepare your business for a natural disaster and ensure the safety of your staff, customers, and infrastructure. It may require a little planning ahead, but investing in tools that ensure the longevity of your business will pay off in the long run.

Workers assess a downed tree blocking the road

1. Stay informed

When inclement weather is forecasted, stay informed on the intensity and duration of the weather event and heed local advisories on traveling and disaster preparedness. Sign up for mobile alerts on the weather conditions so you can determine when it is safe to travel, assess damage, and eventually open up shop again.

Know the possible extreme weather and other events that could impact your operations so you can keep supplies on-hand and avoid last-minute preparation. If you’re in a coastal or flood prone location, this could mean stocking sandbags and waterproof containers. If your business is in a cold climate, keep ice melt and shovels on hand to ensure the surrounding area is safe for foot traffic.

2. Keep your employees safe

Create a severe weather plan for your business, including information like safe evacuation protocols and emergency contact information, so your employees know what to do if they are onsite when sudden weather strikes. If there is inclement weather in the forecast, maintain communication with your employees to ensure their safety and keep them updated when the schedule changes. Labor management software can help you quickly adapt your staffing schedule, sending an automatic alert to your employees, and send mass communication to staff to inform them of operational changes. An open line of communication also helps your employees share resources and access necessities like food, water, and electricity, in difficult conditions.

3. Limit or suspend service when necessary

It’s not an easy decision to limit operations, but the safety of your guests and employees will always come before monthly sales. When a travel advisory means it is no longer safe for your employees to come into work, it’s a good idea to limit or suspend operations depending on the severity of the inclement weather. A loss in power might also cause your business to shutter. According to the James Beard Foundation climate report, weather-related power outages have risen by 67% since 2000. The length of the average outage has also increased by 3.5 hours, increasing the likelihood that restaurant operators have to make tough decisions around food spoilage and suspending operations.

In these cases, you will want to turn off, or pace, your online ordering and reservations if running a restaurant. Likewise, if you run a service business or retail shop, you may want to pause online appointment booking and ecommerce sales. You don’t want customers thinking you’re open when you’re not and risking their own safety to visit your location.

In the case of extreme heat, you may need to close outdoor eating areas like patios and parklets. On the flipside, hot weather can be a good opportunity to increase foot traffic to your dining room and promote your online ordering. Just be sure that you adjust your front-of-house and back-of-house staffing accordingly.

A shop window covered in rain drops with a closed sign

4. Inform your customers

You don’t want customers thinking your business is open during a major storm and risking their own safety to visit your location. Keep them up to date by sending an email update and posting on your social media. Update your Google Business Profile with modified or business-as-usual hours, so that any potential customers searching for your business see correct information. Marketing tools for small business can help you spread the word about reopening and get your loyal customers back to supporting your business as soon as possible.

For guests with confirmed reservations, a restaurant reservation system lets you send 2-way text messages to your guests, creating an open line of communication and giving you the opportunity to reschedule if necessary.

5. Minimize physical damage

Human lives are more important than property. But you’ve worked hard on your business, and ensuring it is still standing and operational is important too. Take note of essential equipment, inventory, and structures and research how you can protect them. This could mean installing storm shutters to protect your windows from high winds, tarps to prevent flood damage, or insulating pipes to avoid freezing. Inspect the building regularly to avoid worst case scenarios like roof collapse from snow and ice build up. Make sure you have trusted contractors and staff to handle building maintenance and repairs.

6. Protect important records

Keeping your important documents and data up to date and accessible will help you address the damage as quickly as possible, should the unfortunate occur. Using a cloud-based system ensures that key business and sales info won’t get lost on a broken hard-drive or waterlogged filing cabinet. Make copies of your key documents and store them at a secure location. Take photos of your business’ building exterior, interior, and any key equipment to ensure you can process insurance claims swiftly and accurately.

7. Apply for assistance if necessary

Being prepared also means knowing who to go to for help should the need arise. Research your state and local government’s policies for disaster relief. Look to FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration for federal resources to support your business in the wake of inclement weather or other disasters. Also consider applying for funding through SpotOn Capital, an accessible loan program for existing SpotOn clients, when it comes to making upgrades to your business.

Whether it's rain, snow, smoke, or wind, you can't predict what's ahead. Why is it important to prepare for inclement weather? When you're working with small profit margins, it doesn't take much to do serious damage to the financial health of your business. You've put so much into your business and you need ways to protect it for the future. With a severe weather plan for your business, you'll have peace of mind on the sunny days and the not-so-sunny days, too.

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