Disaster Preparedness: What Booksellers Should Know

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Preparing for a disaster is an essential part of good business practice; in the first of a two-part story, Bookselling This Week discusses best practices with bookseller John Cavalier of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana.

In 2016, Denham Springs, Louisiana, experienced a severe flood that left 90 percent of the city’s structures underwater for four days. The following year, Cavalier spent four months away from his store to serve as a volunteer with Denham Springs’ National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help come up with a short-term and long-term recovery plan for the city.

During his time volunteering, Cavalier learned the steps business owners can take to ensure that they’re properly prepared in case of an emergency. To prepare for an emergency, he said, booksellers should:

Conduct a risk assessment plan. Resources such as “Preparedness Planning for Your Business,” “Business Impact Analysis,” and the “Business Continuity Plan,” all from Ready.gov, can be helpful in guiding business owners through this step, noted Cavalier. FEMA.gov also offers a business impact analysis worksheet, he shared.

Said Cavalier, “The biggest advice that I’d have for conducting a risk assessment for bookstores is to review your local municipal or county emergency operations plan. That will cover all of the force majeure/act of god stuff that would be specific to your area, and you can easily plug your business into the plan to see how you can both help and benefit from community-wide responses to different threats.”

In Louisiana, Cavalier noted, there’s flooding, hurricanes, and tornadoes, which are more obvious disasters residents can plan for. But, he said, there are other risks, too, such as train derailments. “We prepared for one thing,” he said, “but we’ve got to make sure that we’re prepared for the other, too.”

Evaluate the store for areas of weakness or risk. “I know that at my store,” he noted, “I’ve got to go take down my signage to make sure it’s not a wind hazard. I know that we’re susceptible to flooding on our side door, and so I’ll go make a little barricade over there.”

Diversify revenue streams. When an emergency like a flood occurs, Cavalier said, the local economy can essentially shut down while people recover. “You’re living in a community that has to stop their entire lives to rebuild,” he said, “so they’re not interested in going out to eat or buying books or buying records or buying new clothes.”

By diversifying revenue streams, booksellers can ensure an alternate source of income if a local economy is impacted by a disaster. One example Cavalier gave was when Cavalier House Books hosted book fairs following the flooding in 2016. “Our physical bookstore did not have shoppers coming to it because everyone was dealing with the aftermath of the disaster, and that lasted for four or five months. The only way we made it through that is because we also did school book fairs” in communities not impacted by the flood, he said.

Have up-to-date financials and access to tax returns. Cavalier noted that he always makes sure that his personal financial statement is up to date and that his balance sheet is easily accessible. Booksellers should also make sure their checking account is balanced every month so that they know where they stand financially in the event of an emergency.

Cavalier also recommended that booksellers report to ABACUS. “Annually, we do our ABACUS reporting...and we’re all already having to do our annual tax returns, quarterly payroll, monthly sales tax. All of this stuff is sound business practice,” Cavalier said. “It’s also a sound business practice to be prepared for an emergency.”

Updating and keeping track of financial records isn’t just good for emergencies, he added. It can also help with any funding scenarios that might come up, including applying for a line of credit or establishing an account with a new publisher. Said Cavalier, “There are so many parallels between preparing for an emergency and preparing for everyday business because if your financials are routinely updated, it means you’re going to be prepared for an emergency.”

Keep accounting backed up to an external device and the Cloud. This ensures that it will be available and accessible any time in any situation.

Research online and by talking to other local business owners. For booksellers who are unsure of where to start when preparing for a disaster that could occur in their area, Cavalier said that public information issued by their local or state government is the best place.

In Louisiana, he said, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has a website called “Get a Game Plan” that has checklists for personal and business disaster-related needs. Booksellers can find state-specific information from FEMA here. Booksellers can also reach out to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) to see if they qualify for financial assistance following emergency circumstances.

From there, Cavalier said, booksellers should also talk to other local business owners about what their community is vulnerable to as well as what precautions they should take to prepare. “With that shared responsibility comes a shared response,” he noted.

In Denham Springs, Cavalier said, there are a number of opportunities for local business owners to get together through the Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce, and for booksellers specifically, there are industry-related Facebook groups that can be used to ask general questions and connect with other booksellers about these issues. In some cases, he said, he’s even talked with neighboring business owners on the sidewalk following particularly bad storms or floods.

Cavalier added that following these events, he and other business owners made sure they had each other’s cell phone numbers and were connected on Facebook so they could easily contact each other in case of a future emergency. 

For more information on disaster preparedness, booksellers can read BTW’s recap of the Wi13 education session “Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency for Your Business” or check out Ready.gov or FEMA.