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BUSINESS who has survived the disaster only to have no customers because of the impact on their town or region.” “Taking simple steps to be better prepared, sensible risk mitigation action and bolstering resilience can help small and family businesses to get back on their feet quicker,” he said. Mr Billson added that in some cases when a disaster was imminent, small business owners were often the first to volunteer to lead local emergency response and business support groups, as well as help make preparations for the community, including laying sandbags and moving stock and people to higher ground. “Just like the businesses they run, they are the lifeblood of our communities,” he said. “But I urge small and family businesses to be as prepared as possible and to be best placed to respond and recover. This can be as simple as ensuring your record keeping is up to date and that critical information is at hand and, where possible, digitised so you can retrieve it if your business is destroyed.” Although not a lot can be done to ensure the physical structure of a business is completely secure against natural disasters, there are ways to keep the computer data and important information of your business safe. To ensure business owners are better prepared for an unexpected natural disaster event, Mr Billson said small businesses can take the following steps: • Make sure you have the contact details of your customers, suppliers, staff, accountant and other important people in a safe place. • Check that you have copies of relevant accounts, passwords and backups of important operational data. • See if it is feasible to continue operating from another location. • Ensure your payments to relevant bodies such as insurers, lenders, and the Tax Office are up to date. The Ombudsman’s Small Business Natural Disaster Preparedness and Resilience Inquiry also recommends the creation of an opt-in ‘My Business Record’ to allow a small business to digitally store all relevant governmentheld and other vital information it might need after a disaster. “It is clear from our work that preparation is key to small and family businesses building resilience and coming through natural disasters in the best possible shape,” he said. “It is equally clear the small business community cannot do this on their own and when a natural disaster strikes, certainty of response and certainty of support must be provided. “By this, we mean small business owners should automatically be engaged in local place-based planning and support services and be elevated and ‘front of mind’ in disaster response, recovery and funding arrangements. This must include indirectly affected businesses,” Mr Billson said. “We believe a business hub should be established to provide a single point from which to seek help from government and non-government agencies. And we strongly recommend a “tell-us-once” triage system should be adopted to save small business owners the trauma and time associated with repeating their story.” Mr Billson said ongoing support should also continue in the aftermath of a disaster. “When a small business receives an Australian Government grant, an additional amount should be made available six to nine months later for a ‘business health check’,” he said. “We also need an integrated response to disaster risk management for identified disaster-prone areas that incorporates priority access to mitigation expenditure, co-ordinated planning across levels of government, infrastructure hardening, interest-free loans for asset and activity protection and relocation schemes, and possible use of a dedicated reinsurance vehicle.” Mr Billson said an ongoing problem was that many small businesses were unable to secure appropriate insurance at an affordable price. “If they can get insurance, it can come with excesses that would preclude any claim ever being made. Frustratingly, insurers are also uninterested in the steps individual small and family businesses take to mitigate disaster risk or are dismissive of them,” he said. Mr Billson said they have examples of individual businesses doing everything they possibly can but it has zero impact on the availability and the pricing of their premiums. “We are told this is because the insurance companies look at risk across a broader pool – it is community-wide or industry-wide or neighbourhood-wide analysis. Yet the narrative, amplified through advertising, is often about what individuals might do,” he said. “Many small and family businesses are individually doing what is being asked of them but are seeing no upside to pricing premiums and availability and affordability of insurance cover. What might be for some an insurance ‘gap’ is too often a ‘gorge’ for small businesses that too many cannot cross. The insurance sector needs to do better – and do it now.” Mr Billson said small businesses should not be forgotten in disaster planning and the clean-up. “Sadly, too often we have seen how natural disasters can cause lasting harm to the enterprising women and men building businesses, employing local community members, and contributing to the Australian economy,” he said. “For small and family business owners, their identities are interwoven into their business and the stakes are so much higher than just a job. Many have invested a lifetime – and put their life’s savings and family home on the line to build up their business.” “Small business creates vitality in our communities, employs two out of every five people with a private sector job and contributes one-third of our GDP, so it is absolutely worth building its resilience,” Mr Billson said. The Ombudsman has checklists and resources available online to help small businesses prepare for a disaster and, if needed, to recover after an event at: www.asbfeo.gov.au/resources-tools-centre/ disaster-preparation. MARCH - APRIL 2024 | POWER EQUIPMENT AUSTRALASIA | 31