When a disaster such as a power surge from a lighting strike hits a small business, it can disrupt operations for weeks or months. Machinery and other expensive equipment may be irrevocably damaged and vital data – such as vendor, employee, or customer information – could be lost forever. Having a data protection plan in place ensures that key records remain accessible, says the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

OFB-EZ, a new, free business continuity tool kit was designed by IBHS to enable even the smallest businesses to prepare for disasters and other types of interruptions so they can remain open for business. The program – composed of eight modules – stresses business continuity preparedness practices, including how to contact key suppliers, as well as where to go for help and how to access data after a disaster.

Learn more about OFB-EZ and get related resources at IBHS' dedicated OFB-EZ web page. Then, create a plan that will help keep life's interruptions from becoming a disaster for your small business.

"It's crucial to have a solid business continuity plan in place that keeps important information readily at hand," said Gail Moraton, IBHS business resiliency manager. "It can determine how quickly you get back to work."

Below, learn how loss of a business' critical information can be prevented when a disaster strikes.

Six steps to protect your business data from disaster

1. Backup computer files, including payroll, tax, accounting and production records.

2. Maintain an up-to-date copy of computer and Internet login codes and passwords.

3. When possible, keep hard copies of critical virtual files offsite.

4. Make arrangements with I/T vendors to replace damaged hardware and software, and/or to set-up hardware and software at a recovery location.

5. Request written estimates for rental or purchase of equipment, shipping costs and delivery times. Be sure to list these companies on your supplier and vendor form.

6. When flooding is possible, elevate computer equipment stored on the floor.