What’s Your Escape Hatch from Disaster?

Hurricane Sandy gave me an unwanted crash course in the importance of having a disaster plan for a home-based business.

Although we live in a part of New Jersey that got slammed, my family was lucky and only experienced a power outage and disruption in our internet service.

Nonetheless, the storm reminded me of some of the weaknesses in my emergency backup plan for my business–which usually consists of heading to Starbucks to work if my internet goes out.

Transportation, power, phone and internet service and many other normal parts of life were disrupted throughout our entire area and still aren’t back to normal. Before gas rationing was imposed, it was virtually impossible to find a gas station that was pumping in my area–making it hard to drive anywhere to find a working socket for my laptop. Although people in Florida and other storm-prone areas have learned to be prepared for scenarios like this, it was hard to fathom it happening in the Greater New York City area. Now, alas, I can.

The hurricane reminded me that it’s really important for freelancers to keep money in reserve for emergencies like this and to have more than one alternate place to work in mind if there is a major emergency in your area.

Some freelancers and work-at-home corporate workers I know found a friend in the area with a generator and internet service and brought a laptop to their homes to work there. But, as many of us soon discovered, this type of solution is not something you can count on if your area is hit hard and many of the roads are blocked by downed trees.

And if you are a parent, finding a friend with office space to share is not a simple matter. We have four young children, and schools were closed, so, no matter where I worked, I needed to bring my kids with me. It seemed like too much to ask of anyone else who needed to make business calls.

When it became clear that we weren’t going to have power or internet for days, my husband and I decamped with our kids to a hotel in Harrisburg, Pa. Staying there for three nights gave me a chance to catch up on work and get ahead on a few projects, in case we did not have power when I got back.

When we returned, we did have power, fortunately, but we still had no Comcast service, meaning our land line and internet were out. (It just came on this week). My husband bought a My-Fi device at Walmart to turn our home into a wireless hot spot, and pre-paid cards that allowed us to tap into Verizon service for  it. That cost more than $200, all told.

It was worth it to keep my business going, but it was not inexpensive. Now it’s time to replenish our emergency fund. That’s just one thing I’d suggest that every freelancer do once a year, so you don’t wind up racking up credit card debt to get through an unexpected situation like this.

I wrote a post about other plans I wish I’d put into place ahead of time for Forbes. If you’ve  never had a major disaster hit our areas, I hope it’ll help you learn from some of my mistakes in planning. I’m trying to make myself follow my own tips, so I don’t get caught by surprise if there’s another big storm.



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