Every day brings new headlines about hurricanes, floods, or wildfires disrupting daily life. As a business owner, you have the added responsibility of deciding when to shut down operations, as well as ensuring your workers are safe and informed of developments. You may have to respond to employees who have been displaced from their homes, or are unable to get to work due to unsafe conditions. That can be a huge challenge when electrical grids are knocked out or wildfires disrupt cell towers.

Here are a few tools and tips that can help your business prepare for and even continue functioning in a natural disaster.

1. Set up a Whatsapp group for emergencies

An internet or power outage can cut off employees’ access to email. Consider setting up a group chat on Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal, or another end-to-end encrypted messaging app instead. Such platforms allow users to send and receive messages using either Wi-Fi or mobile data; while most natural disasters pose serious risks to cell and internet infrastructure, one outage may get fixed before the other.

For example, despite an internet outage following the January 2020 earthquakes in Puerto Rico, many people were able to stay connected through mobile networks. Some ISPs will make their public Wi-Fi hotspots available for free during natural disasters.

Whatsapp also allows users to share their live location, which has helped first responders find missing people. Many companies already use Whatsapp or other messaging apps for internal communications, but there are privacy risks associated with regularly using any app. Instead, consider making such apps an emergency-only tool so employees will only have to use them sparingly.

2. Consider a device with LEO connectivity

Satellite internet is still far from common, and far from a necessity. But LEO (low earth orbit) tech will become cheaper and more available in the near future. Apple’s upcoming iPhone 13 reportedly will feature LEO hardware, which means that users can send or receive messages through satellite internet in case 4G or 5G networks are down.

When available, that might be the most cost-effective satellite internet solution; many satellite internet phones range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Another option is to set up your employees with satellite internet at home. Satellite internet providers like Viasat and HughesNet have special plans for small businesses.

3. Keep track of fuel shortages with GasBuddy

If you or your employees are struggling to find fuel during a hurricane or snowstorm, a free mobile app can help. GasBuddy, which locates the nearest gas station with available fuel, became one of the most-downloaded apps during the Colonial Pipeline hacks earlier this year. The app also has a crowdsourced dashboard that keeps track of fuel outages by city.

4. Inform customers through social media

If you already have an active social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, those channels can come in handy to announce store closures or any changes in hours. It’s likely many of your customers are scouring social media anyway for the latest updates on the weather. Be sure your post doesn’t get lost in the shuffle by using the name of the disaster as a hashtag or within the text of the post. Clearly mention the day and date, so prospective customers don’t get fooled by an old post. Also, be sure to update your social feeds once your business is operating again.

By Amrita Khalid, Staff writer@askhalid