When a Crisis Hits a Home-based Business

If disaster calls, the owner of a home-based business faces a double whammy—losing home and livelihood.

Gardens Gourmet experienced extensive tornado damage in 2010.

Gardens Gourmet experienced extensive tornado damage in 2010.

Such businesses are plentiful in rural Minnesota. While some are portable enough to operate from a laptop at the nearest cafe, others depend heavily on location, such as home day-cares, fruit-and-vegetable growers and online sellers.

These businesses are just as vulnerable—and just as important—as a main street shop when fires, tornadoes or other disasters strike, said Patrick Waletzko, emergency manager for Otter Tail County.

He offers this advice for those who run a business from their home:

  • Write an emergency plan. On it, note tornado shelters, evacuation routes and emergency contact numbers. Include phone numbers of customers who may be affected by the crisis affecting your business.
  • Keep one or two emergency kits, the first by an exit at your home and the second in a vehicle. In each kit, keep personal supplies such as snacks, maps and a whistle, as well as duplicates of business files: contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding, insurance policies, bonds, licenses and financial records. You can also keep business information in a safety deposit box.
  • Know what your insurance covers. Many homeowner's policies won't cover business losses. And most won't cover flooding. Business owners might want to buy extra coverage, including a policy covering lost income.
  • Daycare operators should contact the licensing agency immediately after a disaster. The license issuer can often steer them to assistance from nonprofits or other governmental agencies.
  • When the worst happens, ask for help. Disasters often bring volunteers from across the country and even across borders.

“We were not prepared for the tornado that hit our farm,” said Diane Webb, whose Henning-area farm, Gardens Gourmet, lost 52 trees and seven buildings, including a greenhouse in June 2010. Fortunately, their home and horse barn were spared, and volunteers and insurance coverage saw them through the worst of it.

“We had busloads of people who would come out and help us,” Webb said. “I actually stopped counting at 144 volunteers.”

She advised disaster victims to ask for help from the Red Cross or neighbors.

“Don't expect you have to do this all on your own,” she said.