Bushfire preparation for retail businesses
Having a plan in place to cope with bushfires can help to reduce the impact on your business and help you to recover quickly.
Businesses located in bushland or in rural areas are generally at higher risk of bushfire than those living in cities or major towns. Understanding the threat and peak bushfire seasons across Queensland means you can be better prepared.
Bushfires can cause serious damage to property, equipment, and infrastructure as well as cause loss of life. Radiant heat, heavy smoke and toxic fumes from bushfires can also impact your business. Following alerts and warnings from local authorities can help to save your life.
To get back to business sooner, use these 4 stages to help your business manage a bushfire:
Top 10 tips to manage a natural disaster
Use these top 10 tips to prepare your business. For detailed steps, continue reading below.
Make a plan
Identify your risks and plan what you will do, including evacuation plans
Review insurances, policies and finances
Before storm season check your insurance and finances are adequate to cover your business
Prepare your business
Prepare your premises – clear vegetation and loose items, back up data and pack emergency kit
Plan for alternatives
Plan for power outages, loss of deliveries, access and alternate ways to operate
Monitor the incident
Listen to emergency alerts, know where to shelter or evacuate and follow advice
Assess impact on your business
When safe to return, assess and photograph the damage, and contact your insurer and bank
Connect and communicate with staff, customers, guests and community
Apply for financial assistance and other business support
Communicate and promote
Develop marketing strategies to communicate with customers and promote positive news or deals
Consider what you've learned and update policies, plans and staff training
Prevent and prepare before a bushfire
Consider what actions you can take to prevent or reduce the likely effects of an incident and prepare steps to plan for, respond to and recover from unavoidable events.
Make a plan
Develop a business continuity plan to help you prevent risks, prepare for potential impacts, respond to and recover from a severe weather event.
Complete a business continuity plan to help you prevent, prepare, respond and recover before an incident or crisis occurs.
Steps to include in your plan:
- identify key events and risks most likely to impact your business
- plan how to respond to key risks and incidents (e.g. changes to goods or services delivery)
- identify staff roles and responsibilities in an emergency and share team contact details
- identify and record customer, supplier, insurer and emergency contacts
- identify and record local emergency alerts, warnings and contacts, and update channels
- identify information available on your local council's disaster dashboard
- write an emergency evacuation plan and procedures (e.g. identify assembly points, assign roles, shutting down operations procedure)
- conduct regular emergency drills with staff/visitors/customers/guests and document in your emergency plan
- create an event log to record information, decisions, actions, and 'before and after' damage photos for insurance purposes
- create a recovery plan to document steps after an incident.
Prepare your business
When planning for an extreme weather event consider alternative ways to operate if power, supplies, buildings, properties, roads and communications are cut off or unavailable.
- Before summer, check insurances are up to date, and adequately cover your business, assets and any rebuilds or repairs that may be required.
- Photograph equipment or assets to show pre-event condition.
- Review and document how you will manage orders and cancellations.
- Check you have financial reserves and emergency cash on hand.
- Use the small business disaster resources.
- Read bushfire alerts and information from Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
- Visit the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services website to:
- Visit your local council website for local disaster updates
- Use your local council's disaster dashboard to find information about road closures, evacuation centres, and more.
- Find emergency alerts and contacts for Queensland businesses.
Prepare for a fire
- Install fire protection equipment appropriate for your workplace (e.g. foam or dry powder extinguishers for flammable liquids)
- Maintain fire protection equipment, including regularly checks and tests by the suppliers, with maintenance contracts in place
- Train staff to use fire protection equipment
- Prepare an emergency evacuation plan and develop evacuation procedures (e.g. assembly points, shutting down operations) – ensure staff know their roles and responsibilities.
Prepare for a bushfire
- Develop your bushfire survival plan, including how to evacuate and when to leave
- If you plan to stay and defend your property, activate your plan and ensure you have a water supply of at least 10,000 litres (independent of mains supply)
- Clear gutters, loose equipment and vegetation around buildings and access points
- Form a firebreak around your buildings (cut grass, trim vegetation clear of building and clear gutters)
- Plan for any staff, customers or others remaining on your premises so they are fully informed and have access to first aid and emergency supplies
- Learn how to clear vegetation for fire management
- Fit wire screens or shutters to doors, windows and vents, and enclose all gaps (if applicable)
- Store flammable materials (e.g. wood, gas, petrol and paint) well clear of buildings
- Keep ladders available for roof access (inside and out)
- Fit hoses to reach all parts of the building and gardens (if mains pressure water not connected, get a high-pressure pump).
- Plan for extended power outages by getting a generator and fuel.
- Ensure you have enough stock, supplies or spare parts in case your power or access is cut off.
- Identify alternative off-site locations to operate from.
- Plan for flexible staffing arrangements (e.g. work from home, online meetings).
- Plan how you will manage work orders, cancellations and following up on your insurance.
- Plan and document how to deal with supply chain interruptions.
- Read how to respond to supply chain disruptions.
- Backup your data and store off-site or use cloud storage.
- Save digital copies of key business documents, for example:
- business registration
- property deeds
- key contracts
Pack an emergency kit
Having an emergency kit handy can ensure survival, and help you return to business sooner.
- First aid kit – check contents are current and complete
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – for example, masks, gloves, safety glasses, hand antiseptic, disinfectant
- Radio – portable battery powered
- Torches and batteries
- Spare batteries, power boards and power banks
- USB memory sticks or flash drives
- Computer storage (portable hard drives/data storage, backup tapes, discs)
- Spare keys and security codes
- Mobile phone with credit available, plus chargers (portable and car)
- Marker pens (for temporary signs) and general stationery
- Hazard tape
- Utility knife
- Plastic sheeting
- Waterproof bags and containers for valuables
- Tie down straps and rope
- Keys for buildings, vehicles and equipment
- Important or valuable equipment that is easily moved
- List of visitors or customers (on premises or expected) and contact details
Respond during a bushfire
Know where to get the most up to date information and where to get help if you need it. Always phone Triple Zero (000) in a life-threatening emergency.
- Monitor the Rural Fire Service's bushfire map and warnings and the bushfire alerts and information from Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.
- Check ABC local radio and your local council's disaster dashboard for alerts, updates and evacuation centre locations.
- Monitor emergency alerts and contacts for Queensland businesses.
- Check QLDTraffic for road conditions and closures or the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator for interstate route planning.
- Always follow emergency services advice to shelter or evacuate.
- Activate your business continuity plan (includes emergency plan)
- unplug electrical equipment, shut down master electrical board and gas supply
- collect your emergency kit
- evacuate premises if required.
- Communicate regular updates to staff, visitors and customers.
- Advise customers and suppliers about your business operations and evacuation plans where relevant, including:
- in-person to customers on your premises at the time
- online to all other customers.
- Use your social media accounts (if available), website or phone to advise customers and stakeholders about your business operations.
Recover after a bushfire
It can take months or years for some businesses to fully recover from severe weather events. Having a plan to respond and recover from a severe weather event can help speed recovery. Consider deferring big decisions about your business's future until later.
Initial recovery (hours and days following event)
- Protect yourself, your family and staff.
- Monitor emergency broadcasts for updates.
- Return to your premises only when safe.
- Contact your landlord and insurer before cleaning up – they may fund clean-up and require authorisation before repairs begin.
- Lodge your claim early – don't wait for a full damage assessment before lodging.
- Contact your insurer or bank for emergency funds or recovery activities:
- Contact your local council about kerbside pick-up.
Early recovery (days and weeks following event)
- Review your business continuity plan (includes recovery plan).
- Consider reopening options (e.g. alternate premises, hired equipment or contractors, reduced hours or services, online services).
- Assess your finances, including how long you can operate with reduced or no revenue.
- Contact your bank, creditors and debtors to discuss options – use our suggested messages.
- Find natural disaster support from the Australian Taxation Office.
- Add to your insurance claim as required.
- Find out about Queensland natural disaster assistance, which may include grants or loans.
- Speak to a free financial counsellor on 1800 007 007 or rural financial counsellor on 1300 771 741.
- Phone the Employer Assistance Helpline on 1300 731 988 – advice and support if your business has been forced to close or reduce operations from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland.
- Learn about extending state tax and royalty payments from Queensland Treasury.
- Recover data and business records.
- Repair or replace damaged systems or equipment.
- Continue to update customers and suppliers about your business operations – use our suggested messages.
- Provide positive news to customers on your website and social media.
- Post photos and videos on your social media to demonstrate when your business is back up and running.
- Connect with other businesses in your industry and disaster recovery centres to find out how you can help your community, or they can help you.
- Accept community support – people want to help and you are not alone.
Long-term recovery (months or years following event)
- Look after the mental health and wellbeing of your staff and family, as well as yourself.
- Consider alternative roles or tasks for staff.
- Stay connected to your local community, industry and neighbouring businesses.
- Remember it's okay to accept assistance, even if you think others are worse off.
- Consider how to reduce the impact of future events on operations and buildings.
- Replace destroyed equipment, stock, records and documents.
- Assess your finances, cashflow and break-even point.
- Consider the viability of your business – should you rebuild or exit your business?
- Work with your accountant, lawyer or advisors on credit and repayment plans.
- Speak to a free financial counsellor on 1800 007 007 or rural financial counsellor on 1300 771 741 if you need assistance.
- Access small business support services to get back on track, including the Mentoring for Growth program.
- Answer emails promptly and thank people for support.
- Consider how to promote your business – use innovative ways such as videos, photos and promotions to get the message out that you are back up and running.
- Celebrate and let people know how you've recovered.
- Record lessons learned from your business recovery (e.g. adequacy of insurance policies, and IT, accounting and record-keeping systems).
- Update your business continuity plan, and business policies and procedures.
- Review and update your emergency plan and procedures.
- Schedule regular emergency evacuation drills, and provide appropriate training for staff.
- Find out how to store, protect and salvage your collections.
Communication can be crucial before and after a severe weather event. Your staff and customers need to know if the event has impacted your business, if you will close, and when you will reopen.
Consider who your business might need to communicate with before, during and after a severe weather event. Think about how you will communicate if there are power outages.
Key stakeholders may include:
- customers or guests
- suppliers and distributors
- banks and insurers
- industry body or association
- regulatory body or agency.
Before a severe weather event
Once you've received a disaster alert, use social media channels, your website and/or doorway signage to advise all stakeholders about your business operations. If possible, you should talk to your staff face to face and phone or email your key customers, clients or suppliers who may be directly impacted.
During a severe weather event
Usually staff will shelter at home during a disaster, but if your business is responsible for looking after guests or customers, make sure you advise them about how to get advice and updates (e.g. advice from authorities, updates from local ABC radio).
After a severe weather event
If available, use your social media accounts, website or phone to advise customers and stakeholders about your business operations.
- We value all of our (customers/clients) and will keep you updated as best we can.
- We are well prepared for events like this and have activated our response plan.
- Our business will close from (time/date) until it is safe to return and resume operations. Please stay safe and follow emergency services advice.
- Please stay safe and follow emergency services advice.
- If you are in a life threatening or dangerous situation or require emergency assistance, please phone Triple Zero (000). For all other weather event updates visit (provide details).
- Please listen to the advice of emergency authorities at all times.
- We have been following authorities' advice and plan to reopen our business as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Our doors may be temporarily closed, but you can still buy and order online. Visit our website at (add your website address).
- We wish all of our customers and clients a safe recovery.
- We are now open for business and ready to welcome our customers back.
- Please be patient with us as we work to resume full operations.
- You can continue to contact us on (provide details).
- In the meantime, please visit our website (provide website address) to place an order.
Contact your bank
- Ask your bank about financial hardship options, for example:
- changing loan terms
- temporarily pausing or reducing repayments
- deferring repayments and interest payments (all missed payments and interest will need to be repaid)
- waiving fees and charges
- consolidating your debt
- finance to help cover cash flow shortages
- deferring upcoming credit card payments
- increasing emergency credit card limits
- waiving early termination fees to access term deposits.
- Provide loan details (account name and number, payment amounts) and an overview of your financial situation.
- Request a hardship variation by using the sample letter generator from the Financial Rights Legal Centre to send to your bank.
- Your bank must advise you within 21 days about your hardship request. If you can't negotiate a variation, you can:
Contact utility providers
- Contact your utility providers' hardship team about electricity, gas, phone or water bill payment options.
- Contact your insurer if you:
- aren't sure the event is covered by insurance – you may be able to claim under your business interruption or income protection insurance
- have lost your policy documents – your insurer will have a copy.
- Contact the Insurance Council of Australia (phone 1800 734 621) if you have questions about your policy or don't know who your insurer is.
- Check if your insurance policy:
- funds clean-ups
- requires authorisation before repairs begin
- provides emergency or advance funds for wages or recovery activities.
- Gather all information about the claim:
- complete an event log
- items to claim and when purchased
- equipment, furniture etc. that had you've had to throw away
- photo and/or video evidence.
- Make a claim and resolve issues:
- lodge claim as soon as possible – don't wait for a full damage assessment before making a claim
- insurers must fast track a claim if you can demonstrate 'financial need' (read item 64 of the General Insurance Code of Practice) – if the insurer agrees, an advance payment must be made within 5 days
- your insurer must inform you of their decision within 10 business days of receiving your claim
- contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority on 1800 931 678 if you can't reach agreement with your insurer
- phone Legal Aid Queensland on 1300 651 188 if you need information and advice on how to get a claim paid.
- lodge claim as soon as possible – don't wait for a full damage assessment before making a claim
Go back to Small business disaster hub for other industries and disasters.
- Last reviewed: 17 May 2021
- Last updated: 5 Jan 2022