lightning storm with purple sky over city

IRS Offers Tips To Help Businesses Prepare For Natural Disasters

Using Electronic Records and Documenting Valuables Encouraged

With hurricane season underway, the IRS is offering advice to those impacted by storms and other natural disasters. The following tips may help businesses prepare for such events:

  • Use electronic records. Businesses may have access to bank and other financial statements online. If so, their statements are already securely stored there. They can also keep an additional set of records electronically. One way is to scan tax records and insurance policies onto an electronic format. Businesses may want to download important records to an external hard drive, USB flash drive or burn them onto CDs or DVDs. Be sure to keep duplicates of records in a safe place. For example, store them in a waterproof container away from the originals. If a disaster strikes your business, it may also affect a wide area. If that happens, it may be impossible to retrieve the records that are stored in that area.
  • Document valuables. Take time and date stamped photos or videos of the contents of your business. These visual records can help prove the value of lost items. They may help with insurance claims or casualty loss deductions on a tax return. Businesses should also store these in a safe place.
  • Contact the IRS for help. Businesses that fall victim to a disaster may call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 for special help with disaster-related tax issues.
  • Get copies of prior year tax records. If a business needs a copy of its tax return, it should file IRS Form 4506Request for Copy of Tax Return. The usual fee per copy is $50. However, the IRS is expected to waive this fee if a business is a victim of a federally declared disaster. For information that shows most line items from a tax return, call 1-800-908-9946 to request a free transcript. Alternatively, businesses may file IRS Form 4506T-EZShort Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript, or IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

The IRS offers many resources to help employers plan for and recover from disasters, including IRS Publication 584-BBusiness Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook, and webpages devoted to preparing for a disaster and tax relief in disaster situations.

Visit our section on Planning for Workplace Emergencies for strategies to protect your employees and business from natural disasters.

 

curb piled with trash and damaged walls papers and wood from natural disaster storm

Keeping Business Records and Inventory Safe from Natural Disasters

Most businesses keep on-site records and files (both hardcopy and electronic) that are essential to normal operations. Some businesses also store raw materials and product inventory. The loss of essential records, files, and other materials during a disaster is commonplace and can not only add to your damage costs but also delay your return to normal operations. The longer your business is not operating, the more likely you are to lose customers permanently to your competitors.

Protecting Company Documents and Equipment

To reduce your vulnerability, determine which records, files, and materials are most important; consider their vulnerability to damage during different types of disasters (such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes) and take steps to protect them, including the following:

  • Raising computers above the flood level and moving them away from large windows;
  • Moving heavy and fragile objects to low shelves;
  • Storing vital documents (plans, legal papers, etc.) in a secure off-site location;
  • Regularly backing up vital electronic files (such as billing and payroll records and customer lists) and storing backup copies in a secure off-site location;
  • Securing equipment that could move or fall during an earthquake; and
  • Prior to hurricanes, covering or protecting vital documents and electrical equipment from potential wind-driven rain, which may breech the building envelope through windows, doors, or roof systems.

Additional Tips to Secure Your Business

  • Make sure you are aware of the details of your flood insurance and other hazard insurance policies, specifically which items and contents are covered and under what conditions. Check with your insurance agent if you have questions about any of your policies.
  • When you identify equipment susceptible to damage, consider the location of the equipment. For example, equipment near a hot water tank or pipes could be damaged if the pipes burst during an earthquake, and equipment near large windows could be damaged during hurricanes.
  • Assign disaster mitigation duties to your employees. For example, some employees could be responsible for securing storage bins and others for backing up computer files and delivering copies to a secure location.
  • You may want to consider having other offices of your company or a third-party service provider perform some administrative duties, such as maintaining payroll records or providing customer service.
  • Estimate the cost of repairing or replacing each essential piece of equipment in your business. Your estimates will help you assess your vulnerability and focus your efforts.
  • For both insurance and tax purposes, you should maintain written and photographic inventories of all important materials and equipment. The inventory should be stored in a safety deposit box or other secure location.
  • Periodically evaluate the building envelope to make sure that wind and water are not able to penetrate the building. Do regular maintenance and repairs to maintain the strength of the building envelope.