As wildfires spread across the west coast of the United States, most people can only watch in horror until the true measure of the damage can be assessed. To get an idea of the potential destruction, the northern California Camp Fire, which raged through the west in 2018, destroyed more than 7,300 properties, including personal homes and small businesses.

Even in areas where the current fires aren’t active, the smoke has affected residents and halted business operations. In mid-September, the Seattle Mariners had to postpone one of their games because of the smoke, while an Oakland A’s pitcher was left gasping for air the day before.   

If you operate in an area where wildfires might reach you or leave you operating in a cloud of smoke, you must take precautions to prepare your business. Prepare for the worst while communicating with your customers and setting yourself up for a successful recovery.

Start Your Wildfire Preparedness Before the Dry Season

The time to start preparing for a wildfire isn’t when one is already wreaking havoc. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, make sure you have a wildfire preparedness plan in place.

Save our Wildfire Preparedness Checklist so you have access to a guide to prepare before there’s an active wildfire, manage during the wildfire itself, and recover after the fire passes.

One important point that bears repeating is the importance of training your team members on wildfire preparedness in their homes. You can help save lives and the residences of your employees by offering comprehensive training. This benefits your business and the lives of your team members.

Additionally, it’s critical that you have an evacuation plan in place, both in the event that you need to leave during the workday and when your business is closed. This evacuation plan should include:

  • How you’ll communicate with customers. Sharing via social media and email is a simple way to communicate with your entire customer base while one-on-one calls may be necessary if you run a smaller firm.
  • How you’ll protect your property and equipment, etc. Do you need to take it somewhere? Do you need to cover it?
  • How you’ll physically evacuate. What routes will you take? Note that you should have more than one evacuation route option.

Start Planning for Insurance and Recovery

Another key aspect of your business preparedness is collecting insurance documents and financial records. Ahead of wildfire season, call your insurance provider to understand what your coverage entails. Even if the fire is growing stronger near you, you can still call your insurer to understand what you need.

You may want to create a wildfire “document bug out bag” for your business. This includes all important documents related to your insurance coverage, financials, deeds, and contracts. This is the box or bag you will grab and take with you during an evacuation.

You should also need to take photos of your business ahead of the wildfire to document what it looked like before the fire came through. Make sure you get photos of your equipment and key assets (like your fleet of vehicles) to make the insurance process smoother.

Understand the Needs of Smoke-Sensitive Employees

You don’t need to be living near a wildfire-prone area to be affected by the flames. Smoke from the 2020 wildfires has traveled across the country, reducing air quality in areas like Boston, New York, and Maine.

As an employer, it is your job to create a safe working environment for your team members. The state of California provides guidelines for protecting workers when the air quality is poor. For example, you may need to keep employees inside, provide respiratory protection, and move some workers to different locations or implement remote work to keep them safe.

If the smoke is moving toward your area, develop a plan for your team, and determine whether the situation is severe enough to close your business until it’s safe for everyone to return.

Visit the Site After the Wildfire Passes

Once the wildfire passes and it’s safe to return to your business, take steps to evaluate the damage, and begin the recovery process. Turn off all utilities like gas or electricity to prevent further fires from sparking or posing a threat to your business. The goal is to recover any valuables you can while securing your business.

It may be tempting to reach out to contractors and begin the rebuilding process, but don’t rush the process. Remember that you need a clear head in order to make strategic decisions and to evaluate the offers made by builders.

As explains, “Give yourself enough time to make the right decision. Don’t sign anything without reading it thoroughly and understanding what it says. Don’t throw away anything until all the damage has been properly documented and inventoried.”

Finally, know that other businesses are facing the same trauma as you. You can work together to rebuild and reopen when it’s safe to do so. 

Prepare For Wildfires Throughout the Year

You can’t predict whether or not your business will be affected by or survive a wildfire. However, you can take steps to prepare your employees and workplace for when the flames and smoke start moving your way. Hold wildfire preparedness meetings a few times each year and review your plans and remember that your business can recover if you’re prepared and ready.

About the Author(s)

 Bridget  Weston

Bridget Weston is the CEO of the SCORE Association, where she provides executive leadership and works directly and collaboratively with the Board of Directors to establish the vision and direction of SCORE.