As some of you may know I live on the south shore of Long Island, and this was one of the areas that was hit by the storm surge and flood waters from Hurricane Sandy last year. We had 38″ of water in the street and 15″ on the first floor of my house, so the entire first floor of my house had to be gutted. Since I work out of my home office this has not only affected how I live, but how I work and earn a living. It’s been 3 months and things aren’t perfect, but we are close to recovered. I’ll share my experiences of trying to run a home business with you, and hopefully you can benefit from my experience.
Protecting Your Computers From A Natural Disaster
If you run a home business it’s likely you have more than one computer, one of which is probably a laptop. Make sure you have more than one power cord, and have some idea where they are (Ebay is a great source for spare power cords). I have one hard-wired to my desk and another that’s in my travel backpack. If you have more than one computer, try not to keep them in the same place, in fact try to keep them as far apart, and on different circuits if possible. It may look cool, or be easier to maintain if they are near each other, but in the event of a natural disaster the further apart they are, they more likely one will survive. The same goes for any backup drives, time machines or other backup servers. If your laptop, file server, and backup drive are all at your desk and there’s a fire, they all perish together, separate them and they stand a chance. My time machine was on the first floor, and was a victim of the flood, my laptop and file server were on the second floor and survived. Crawl spaces, basements, and attics may seem like good places to tuck equipment, but they are also the most likely to be damaged in a flood, hurricane or tornado. Additionally make sure your equipment uses power strips that have surge protectors, so if the power goes out/comes on unexpectedly your equipment is protected.
In the unlikely event your entire house is destroyed, you want to have an offsite backup as well. There are a lot of services out there, but I personally recommend Carbonite or Mozy. Both are easy to use, reasonably priced and work in the background with a minimum of fuss. I deleted some photos by accident last year, and when I realized what I did a few days later, I was able to pull them back from Carbonite.
Receipts and Paperwork
Like it or not running a business means receipts and paperwork, most of which has to be kept on file for years. A few years ago I started using a service called Shoeboxed that scans and digitally archives any documents and receipts you send them. During the flood I lost almost two years worth of physical records I had sent them. However I do still have the digital backups. It’s not perfect but its close enough. If you have concerns about using a service like Shoeboxed, try getting a receipt scanner like Neat Receipt, just make sure you are backing up the digital scans.
Dealing with insurance companies during a disaster is as much fun as going to the dentist for four simultaneous root canals the morning of your wedding, during a snowstorm. It’s extremely important that you save every receipt you can so you can try to get reimbursed for your purchases and expenses. You aren’t going to get everything, but having receipts helps. Your insurance company will let you know when you can dispose of damaged items, anything you do get rid of be sure to take a picture of the complete unit, and a second picture of the model number and serial number plate.
Wi-Fi and Internet Access
When my house was flooded we lost power for 10 days. Because I mounted my cable router above the flood line, miraculously I was able to get it running a day later by replacing the underfloor cables which were ruined. During that time I was able to keep internet access by using a Verizon Mi-Fi portable hotspot. This is something I had before the flood and does come with a monthly service charge (I pay $60), however I use it when traveling to avoid the exorbitant rates some hotels charge for in room Wi-Fi.
Many phone plans allow you to use your phone as a personal hotspot. I personally find this drains the battery very quickly and the speeds aren’t as fast, but that’s a personal choice. If you are using your phone or a personal hotspot stay on top of your bandwidth usage, it’s extremely easy to hit an overage if you aren’t careful.
Depending on how extensive the damage is in your situation, working at home will be anywhere from a minor inconvenience to completely impossible. If you’ve had to relocate you might get lucky and be able to work where you are staying, but if this isn’t the case you’ll need to be flexible and find other alternatives. Starbucks, coffee shops, cafe’s and even your local library are good alternatives to consider. However none of these places are good for making business calls, I actually found my car to be the best solution for this problem. The contractor who was rebuilding my house found it amusing when I would take my laptop to the car, sit in the backseat and make calls, so be prepared for some strange looks.
To wrap things up going through a fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or natural disaster sucks, whether you work at home or not. However if you do work at home disaster planning is something you might not have thought about but should start thinking about. Your best strategy to survive, minimize loses, and get back up and running is to spread your equipment around, have offsite backups of your files and physical paperwork. Have a plan to be able to get work done in less than ideal conditions, and understand your working space is going to have to be flexible, and probably change more than once. Understand that in the end most of the things that were damaged or lost are just stuff, and while you may not like losing it, it’s just stuff and in the end stuff REALLY doesn’t matter, and they are making more of it every day.