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The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Your Business Documents Safe From a Natural Disaster

Most recent estimates suggest that Hurricane Harvey cost businesses upwards of 15 billion dollars in lost productivity. Wildfires in California push businesses out of their offices almost every year resulting in millions of dollars of costs. But despite these cautionary tales, over 37% of businesses say they are not currently prepared for a natural disaster. And even then, this number is likely a conservative estimate, with countless businesses not being aware of how unprepared they actually are.

It’s a nightmare scenario, one that everyone would prefer not thinking about. But imagine losing almost every important document your business needs to operate in a natural disaster. Floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more can be devastating for businesses big and small. It’s important to prepare for these worst-case scenarios in order to keep your business operational, no matter what happens.

Employees work to recover damaged files and personal items after a flood.

Even businesses that don’t think they need to worry about these things should consider the potential of something like a building’s sprinkler system malfunctioning. Or perhaps an electrical fire in the building, neither of which qualify as a major disaster, but the aftermath can be just as devastating for a business.

With that in mind, there are a variety of ways to keep your documents safe, no matter the size of your business. Whether you’re a small business owner or a larger corporation, there are solutions to protect both your data as well as your physical files.

Below you will find our complete guide to keeping your documents safe and secure, protecting you against whatever nature might throw your way.

Use the Cloud to Keep Your Documents Safe

Cloud technology used to be quite a bit more complicated. Businesses large and small were dumping large quantities of resources and budget into getting storage setup in the cloud. In recent years, however, third-party services like Google Cloud Platform, Dropbox, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Drive and others make it easy for even non-technical businesses to keep all their important documents secure off-site.

Using a reliable cloud service provider ensures that no matter your location, in the event of an office emergency you can access all your cloud-stored business files. Many of these services offer automated syncing as well, meaning you don’t have to spend hours every week backing everything up.

Most come with a small amount of free storage so you can test the waters before allocating any budget to moving all your important documents onto their services.

A variety of affordable cloud storage solutions like Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud make it easy to maintain comprehensive backups with minimal effort.

Set up Redundant Server Storage

For the more technologically savvy, it’s not a bad idea to have your own in-house servers storing important documents. This tactic is not as common anymore with third-party cloud providers like those listed above, but if security is a concern, a local server is still a great idea.

The one thing to always keep in mind when building your own servers is that it is vitally important to maintain redundancy. No server is 100% failsafe, and in the event of an emergency, it’s important to have a backup server, ideally located off-site where all your files will remain secure in case of disaster. It would be difficult to quickly move a server stack if something were to happen to your office. Having off-site redundancies helps ensure you won't have any catastrophic data losses during emergencies.

Make sure you set up your servers to automatically sync file backups, and double check to make sure your backups are occurring frequently. This will prevent your business from losing days, weeks, or months of hard work.

Utilizing off-site server storage for regular back-ups will help you recover files that may otherwise be lost during a natural disaster.

Use Movable Storage like USB Sticks and External Hard Drives

Don’t have the capacity to set up your own servers off-site? No problem. For smaller businesses, things like external hard drives and USB sticks can work great as well.

One major added benefit of external storage is that you can quickly grab it in case of an evacuation. Without having to move an entire computer, or dig into the computer hardware and remove hard drives, external storage is easy to carry and relatively secure.

Make sure that you routinely back all your files up onto these devices, as well as make redundant backups on multiple devices. External storage is considerably cheaper, but it does require more long-term maintenance and carries the risk of being damaged or lost. There are plenty of horror stories of companies losing external hard drives or file storage sticks with important files on them, so let those examples be a lesson to be extra careful.

Standalone hard drives and USB storage devices take up little physical space and can store large quantities of data.

Duplicate Physical Copies and Store Them Off-Site

What about if you can’t digitize all your documents? Businesses that require hard copies of their files, like law offices, medical and dental offices, among others, keep cabinets full of important documents and can’t simply upload everything into the cloud for legal and privacy reasons.

These files are particularly at risk in the event of a natural disaster. Floods and fires can quickly destroy decades of documents. Companies like Iron Mountain and ARC offer off-site file storage. This can be a great option for storing original files, but it also makes sense to use physical storage services to keep backup copies in case of emergencies.

Make Sure Your Physical Storage is Fire and Waterproof

One of the simplest ways you can protect your important in-office physical documents is proper storage equipment. While quite a bit more expensive than less-protective equipment, file cabinets that carry a guarantee of fire and water protection can ensure small disasters don’t ruin your important documents.

Choose smart storage! While attractive, shelving and paperwork organizers like those shown above won't hold up against the elements. Opt for metal fireproof file cabinets for maximum protection.

Examples of Business Documents to Keep Secure

Below you will find some of the most common business documents that companies keep extra secure.

  • Tax documents - There’s nothing worse for a company’s accounting and finance department than disorganized tax filings. It’s important to keep these records safe but also easily accessible for when the need to revisit them occurs.
  • Business plan - While not necessarily a legal document, a business plan will likely be important if you ever sell your business. It also helps to keep this secure as the business matures and the document needs to be revisited.
  • Company bylaws - A written record of how a company will govern itself is always going to be necessary. While keeping it easily accessible is less important, it could be expensive to redraft if it is lost in a fire or flood.
  • Operating agreements - The document that outlines how key business decisions are made is one of the most important for your company. Make sure you keep it in a secure location, especially as the signatures on the document most likely make it a binding contract.
  • Funding documents - Cap Tables, Investor’s Rights Agreements, Management Rights Letter, and Stockholder Consent are all very important. Make sure these documents are kept extra secure.
  • Financial reports - It takes a lot of work to put together accurate financial reports, no sense not ensuring their safety in case it becomes necessary to need to access them again. Double and triple back these files up to safeguard against emergencies.
  • Board minutes - Any incorporated business should keep their formal board minutes for as long as the business exists. These are important documents that show board decisions over the company’s history.
  • Leases / real estate documents - Office space leases, equipment leases, mortgage documents, all of these are important for both records as well as a jumping off point for any new negotiations around a new office or equipment rental.

Save duplicate physical copies of any and all financial reports, annual reviews, HR records, tax documents, legal contracts, lease agreements, and so on.

Hopefully, none of these options are ever necessary for you and your business, but these best practices will help you feel prepared no matter the scenario. The peace of mind alone is worth the few extra steps of work to ensure file and data security.