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Japan Crisis Offers 5 Small-Business Lessons

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan should spur small-business owners here in the U.S. to review -- or perhaps create -- emergency plans.

With all the planning, managing and overseeing a business owner is responsible for in smaller firms, emergency plans may take a back seat. But an "emergency" doesn't need to be an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale.

It could be a weather-related event such as a heavy snowstorm, given this year's rough winter across many parts of the U.S., something like the massive power failure across the eastern seaboard in 2003, a fire or the death or injury of an owner or key employee.

The basics are easy: Back up data on separate servers and have a chain list of employee phone numbers. But what if the backup server is in the same office as the disruption or cell phone service isn't working?

"A lot of people talk about crisis plans," says Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications, a public relations firm specializing in crisis communication, but business owners and employees should also be able to identify where employees are and even know spouses' names and contact information.

Given technological advances, contact information could be more useful as a mobile, instantly updated app, Levick says.

Business owners also should not assume customers know of an interruption. Levick says owners should communicate frequently and in as many places as possible -- through Twitter, Facebook and email, for instance, with customers.

Most importantly, a small-business owner must have the ability to lead his or her team through the crisis.

"Employees are looking to any source of information as quickly and accurately as possible," Levick says. "A small-business owner needs to step into that leadership role, and you can only get there by anticipating or being prepared."

Business owners should anticipate chaos and confusion and be able to offer a sense of calm to employees, he says. Preparation need not be overwhelming or expensive. Here are a few simple and cost-effective tips to have in place -- just in case:

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