Bucket List for Your Business

Disaster Preparation Resources for Small Businesses in the Sierra Nevada

by Susan Berry, MA, and Randall Thomas, PhD, Aligned for Results, with permission from the authors


Summers are growing longer and hotter in the Sierra Nevada region, along with growing risks of wildfire, drought, and extended hot weather spiked with extreme heat. The impact of these hazards can range from personal inconvenience (think vacation upsets) to regional disasters like the Rim Fire of 2013-14 that threaten life, health, safety and access to power, water, and emergency services.

In the wake of such disasters, more Sierra Nevada residents now stock a personal emergency bucket at home or a ‘bug-out’ backpack in the car.  But fewer have a response plan or emergency kit for their business. 

Lack of Disaster Planning Threatens Small Business Survival

A 2012 study of 504 small U.S, businesses by Sage software found that more than 60 percent of those responding had no emergency response plan. 

Less than half of those who replied to Staples’ 2013 survey of 400 small businesses indicated they were prepared for a disaster, or that they shared safety plans with employees. (Both surveys were cited by C Scarinci in the Journal of International & Interdisciplinary Business Research, January 2016).

This bucket holds essentials (including a ‘Honey Bucket’ toilet kit) that enable ten people to use their workplace as an emergency shelter for three days. Do you have a stash like this to see your team through?

This bucket holds essentials (including a ‘Honey Bucket’ toilet kit) that enable ten people to use their workplace as an emergency shelter for three days. Do you have a stash like this to see your team through?

The lack of a ‘bucket list’ and plan for emergencies and natural disasters can have severe consequences for rural businesses, for the individuals who work there, and for the communities they share.

One in four small businesses never reopens following a major disaster according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (2001, 2005).  A significant proportion of businesses that do reopen struggle to survive.  Since most rural communities depend on their small businesses for income and economic vitality, the implications for your entire community are sobering.


Your Resilient Business Toolkit

Fortunately, there are number of things that Sierra small business owners and managers can do to increase their odds for surviving and prospering in the wake of a disaster.

Essential tactics are summarized in a 5-step emergency planning process, available for review and use at http://resilientbusiness.org/the-toolkit/ 

The ‘Resilient Business’ toolkit was initially developed by Valley Vision (a non-profit that helps communities collaborate to solve local challenges) to assist small business in the Sacramento region with disaster preparation. 

In 2018, the Sierra Business Council teamed up with Valley Vision to make emergency planning resources available throughout the Sierra Nevada region.  

Nikki Caravelli, Project Manager for SBC’s Sierra Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Program (Sierra CAMP), explains:

"Our Business Resilience Initiative is geared towards raising awareness about the risks small businesses face and providing easy, actionable resources they can use to prepare. While not everyone will have the capacity to develop a comprehensive resilience plan, which is the ideal outcome of this initiative, we hope folks will at least visit the Toolkit and come away with a few ideas on how to be resilient in the face of emergency."

Workshops to ‘Disaster-Proof Your Business’ were recently held in Sonora (addressing disaster risks and resources in Tuolumne County) and in Grass Valley (addressing disaster risks and resources in Nevada County). 

Resources to ‘Disaster-Proof’ Your Business

Sierra Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Partnership



Valley Vision



Local County Office of Emergency Services

Local American Red Cross

Local Utilities





Local Service Clubs

Insurance Companies

Risk Assessment and Recovery Plan Consultants

An In-Depth Guide to Financial Emergency Preparedness

Each workshop introduced participants to environmental risks common in their counties, to practical steps for disaster preparation, and to local resources for continued action.  The final workshop was filmed, and is being added to on-line toolkit resources for rural business owners. 

Meg Arnold, Managing Director of Valley Vision, explains how important emergency preparation can be for Sierra Nevada businesses:

"Disaster resiliency is important for businesses of all sizes, but especially for smaller ones, which often have a single location, limited cash reserves, and a lack of expertise to respond to disasters. In addition, in many communities, small businesses account for the majority of jobs and economic impact. The Business Resiliency Toolkit and our ‘Disaster-Proof Your Business’ workshops were created to help small businesses help themselves — and it was a delight to be able to bring both to Sierra Nevada communities at high risk of wildfire, especially because broad-based natural disasters like wildfire are becoming more common, more severe, and less predictable."

Workshop participants confirm that investing time to plan ahead for emergencies has a big pay-off. Here’s what one Sierra Nevada business owner said about his ‘Disaster-Proof’ experience:

“I would definitely recommend this to other business owners.  This workshop was about being prepared: What to do in case of an emergency (a fire that takes out a whole city or even a block); how to recover; how to manage business when you can't do business. 

One of the good things I learned today was as prepared as I feel we are as a company, we have a long way to go.  There’s multiple aspects of being prepared I hadn't thought of before that were brought up today.  Some of the communication aspects of who do we notify first, who do we talk to first, how do we get ahold of people when we have a situation.

One of the threats we’re concerned about here in Grass Valley is fires. Fires are probably our biggest threat. I'm always feeling threatened by fires, but I feel better now, … and have lots of great information I can pass on to my company.”


Your Customized Bucket List for Emergencies

FEMA offers an emergency supply list. Use this checklist to evaluate your needs and stock up for possible emergencies, both for your business and for your home and family.

The Basics

  • Water - one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation

  • Food - at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food

  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert

  • Flashlight

  • First aid kit

  • Extra batteries

  • Whistle to signal for help

  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place

  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

  • Manual can opener for food

  • Local maps

  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Additional Items to Consider

  • Prescription medications

  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives

  • Glasses and contact lens solution

  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream

  • Pet food and extra water for your pet

  • Cash or traveler's checks

  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container

  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person

  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes

  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Matches in a waterproof container

  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items

  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils

  • Paper and pencil

  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Personal Necessities

We won't provide you with a list of these (we get it: it's personal.) Nevertheless, don't forget what you personally need to survive an emergency!

Five Steps to ‘Disaster-proof’ Your Business

You can take advantage of the ‘Disaster-proof Your Business’ workshop video and the Business Resilience Toolkit on-line (visit http://resilientbusiness.org/the-toolkit/  ).  These resources will support you in taking five essential steps to prepare for emergencies.

1. Understand Your Environment and Your Risks.

Businesses in Tuolumne and Nevada Counties, and throughout the Sierra Nevada region, are at high risk of fire.  How can you discover and prioritize whether fire and other hazards are common in your environment? 

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety has set up a convenient online tool to look up environmental hazards by zip code, available here.

Once you have identified common hazards in your area, you can click through each hazard icon to learn about ways to reduce or eliminate risk.

Depending on the type of business you own or manage, specific environmental hazards may pose different levels of risk.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed a table of factors that can help you assess what risks matter most for your business.  Access the table here.

Your County Office of Emergency Services can also help with hazard and risk assessment.  Ask for a copy of your Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, which assesses local risks, identifies high priority hazards, and outlines county plans to reduce or eliminate risk to life and property from natural hazards.

In most Sierra Nevada areas, fire will be a top risk.  Even if your business is not touched, fire in the surrounding area can have a profound impact on your employees, customers, and ability to operate.  Checking with your County can may reveal on-going community efforts to prepare for this and other high-priority hazards.  Tuolumne County, for example, has developed a county-wide Emergency Alert Program that can launch mass notifications of hazardous conditions to those who opt-in.

Teaming up with others in your community is especially important for rural businesses and residents.  As Tracy Riggs, Coordinator of Tuolumne County’s Office of Emergency Services, notes:

“… simply connecting with neighboring businesses to create a business continuity network before anything adverse happens will make that network far more resilient and quick to respond in a disaster.  As a community, we’re all in this together.  We’re stronger together than we are on our own.”


2. Assess Your Readiness.

How ready are you and your business to withstand the risks you have identified?  Consider the following questions:

Facility and Property Protection:  Are your building(s) and surrounding property prepared?   In particular, take a look at your facility’s physical readiness to withstand fire:

IBHS: Protect your business from wildfire

IBHS Best Practices Guide

Emergency Supplies:  Do you have an Emergency Bucket stocked and ready to support your team if you need to shelter in-place during an emergency?  Are you and your team trained on how to use the contents, including how to apply medical first aid and CPR?

See the sidebar box for FEMA’s checklist of recommended supplies to include in your Emergency Bucket.  Now is a great time to identify Bucket supplies you already have, and acquire items on the checklist that you need (or any other items you’d like to include).  

Engaging members of your team in this task can underline the urgency of emergency planning, and lay the foundation for shared commitment to action.  You may also want to encourage all members of your business team to keep a personal emergency kit or bucket at home and in their vehicles.

Carolee White, Community Disaster Education Lead with the Red Cross of Amador, Calaveras, and Tuolumne, encourages business owners to support this kind of personal preparation among employees.  Knowing that their families are prepared in an emergency will free up team members’ abilities to do their part in executing your business continuity plans if needed.  The Red Cross offers a number of resources locally and online to help individuals review and improve personal and family preparation.

Evacuation Plans:  Do you have an emergency evacuation plan that you and your team members know how to execute if you need to leave on a few moments notice?  Evacuation plans include identifying who will turn off and secure what, who will ensure everyone is safely out and has reached a secure location, who will take what with them (including data, copies of licenses, legal and insurance documents, critical machines or tools) and where and how you, team members, and these materials will reconnect following evacuation so your business can continue operations.

Financial Assets: Do you have an emergency relief fund? Do you have insurance? Do you know what information you may need to collect to qualify for post-disaster assistance? The Simple Dollar has put together a checklist for financial preparedness before, during and after a disaster - read more here:

An In-Depth Guide to Financial Emergency Preparedness

Continuity Plans:  How ready is your business to continue operations during and following a disaster or emergency?

For example, do you have your records backed up in ‘the Cloud’ or at least in a location that will be safe AND accessible during and following an emergency?  How will you be able to operate without normal power, gas, water, internet, or cell service?  What will you do if key personnel are not available to run specific aspects of the business? 

During an emergency or disaster, will you be in position to help others who may especially need your services or products?  Do you have back-up suppliers in case your regulars cannot reach or serve you?  How will you operate if your physical facilities are not available?  Do you have alternate phone numbers, internet contact data, or other means to communicate with your employees and other key people you may need to reach?

Insurance:  What does your insurance cover and what are its limits for specific losses (particularly business property and business interruption insurance)?  What will your insurance agent need from you to process claims, and will you have that information available to you?  How quickly can you expect your claims to be processed?

For a thorough exploration of your business readiness to navigate an emergency or natural disaster, you may want to consider this assessment tool prepared and supported by the American Red Cross.

3. Take Action

Developing practical answers to the questions posed above can lay the foundation for a realistic business continuity plan. Involve your team in creating this plan to ensure awareness, buy-in, and the utility of the plan. See Step #3 (Action) in the Resiliency Business Toolkit for further detail on how to develop a continuity plan that makes sense for your type of business:  (http://resilientbusiness.org/the-toolkit/).   


  • Start small and build on what you learn as you put aspects of your plan in place!

  • Engage your team in creating the plan and taking responsibility for its execution.

  • If you notice resistance or lack of enthusiasm for specific aspects of the plan, explore concerns and find an effective way to address them.

4. Test and Update Your Plan

Test your plan by practicing it.  Modify it until it works smoothly when you and your team only have a few moments or minutes to execute.

Although disaster preparation exercises can begin on paper or by envisioning response to specific threats during team meetings, the most effective practice sessions are those that echo the actual circumstances you will encounter during emergencies. 

Some businesses simulate emergency requirements by sending team members home or to remote locations, testing abilities to stay connected and get work done.  Emergency planning consultants believe that the most robust plans grow from drills that replicate conditions if your people must leave your area and work outside the ‘disaster zone.’  Conducting and de-briefing this kind of drill allows you to test and refine plans according to experience.


  • Disaster preparation is not a single event. Build preparation into the fabric of your business and your community with continuous practice and improvement.

  • Take advantage of events like National Preparedness Day of Action (this took place in April during 2018) or the FEMA-declared National Preparedness Month (September 2018) to regularly retest. In the Sierra, it is especially important to retest before fire season begins.

5. Engage With Community Resilience Efforts

As you put your business continuity plan in place, build connections to others in the community that could help your business operate in the event of a natural disaster.  This can be as simple as agreeing to partner with another business in a different location to share facilities during an emergency.

You can find and develop business partnerships by networking through your local Chamber of Commerce, or through service organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Masons, and Elks.  Teaming up with others to attend workshops like “Disaster-Proof Your Business” is another way to begin collaboration on resilience plans.  As one workshop participant noted:

“As a health care provider, it is extremely essential to the public and to our patients to be prepared for any type of emergency that may occur, whether it be man-made or natural.  One thing I learned today is how many of our small local businesses are not as prepared as maybe they should be, and, on top of that, how important is it is for the community in itself to communicate with one another and be a partner. 

Attending this workshop was an absolute pleasure.  I feel more connected with my local community, I feel like a lot of the local businesses here shared a lot of information, whether they were prepared or not, and I feel like I was able to give information to them that maybe they hadn’t thought about.  So in a real world sense, I feel like we were able to come together as one.”

Connecting with others can make a vital difference to your community’s ability to bounce back resiliently from a major challenge.  You may also learn about, and be able to connect to, existing community resilience efforts that will help your business successfully move through an emergency or disaster. 

Tuoloumne County presents an inspiring example of what is possible when rural businesses and residents collaborate on resilience plans. Following the Rim Fire disaster, the County worked with state and Federal agencies to seek funds for recovery projects, and won a major grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Disaster Resilience Competition.  With funding from this award, local residents are now engaged in design of two Community Resilience Centers (to be located in Groveland and in Tuolumne).  The Centers will be built to withstand fire and floods, and to serve as emergency support stations during disasters.  On a daily basis, they will house community service organizations, training programs, and facilities such as commercial grade kitchens that support community events and connection.

The Sierra Business Council, through its Sierra Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Program, can put you in touch with resources to support the development and effectiveness of community-level response and resilience plans.  Now is a great time to get started!