If the winter of 2016 was a welcome break (in relative terms) from previous years in terms of severity of the weather and related losses, smart businesses know to hope for the best but plan for the worst given the toll a bad winter can take.

An estimated $1 billion in winter storm-related insured losses were reported in 2016, well below 2015’s $3.5 billion and below the average of $1.4 billion. But even with milder overall conditions, severe weather still happens and can disrupt a business – pummeling sales, damaging property, ailing or injured employees or more.

None of that’s a foregone conclusion, though, if you’re prepared. In fact, how well you plan for severe weather can make a difference in your ability to shine with shareholders and stakeholders while others struggle with closures and lost market share.

Consider eight best practices that will help any business in any location offset the risks of any sort of severe weather.

1. Understand your risks. Each company has its own risks based on its line of business. Questions to ask might include: What are the critical things you need to maintain operation if severe weather should hit? If you lose heat, what systems will be impacted? You'll need to have a plan in place to compensate for an infrastructure or facility disruption.

2. Update emergency plans. To maintain safety during an emergency, make sure you're receiving notifications from the local municipality, regional and national weather services. Watch for road and school closures and make decisions accordingly to ensure your employees are safe. Similarly, make sure you've discussed potential emergency scenarios with your staff and they’re equipped with a plan. If employees have to work from home, do they have what they need to be productive?

3. Prepare for power outages. Make sure you've communicated with your employees or staff in advance of a potential power outage. Consider what equipment needs to be turned off, especially sensitive equipment that needs to be protected. Post shutdown and restart procedures near the equipment, in specific order to make sure everything is functioning optimally during and after an outage.

4. Communicate in advance of severe weather with suppliers/vendors. If you receive multiple vendor drop-offs of inventory each week, inquire about their plan should severe weather impact their ability to deliver. If they don't have a pre-established plan, consider how you can maintain your supply and materials in the event of a weather disruption. This applies to all facilities within a single company as well as vendors in your supply chain.

5. Communicate in advance with your insurance broker. Your broker will help you understand your risk and what your policy covers in terms of business interruption. Also review any potential liabilities that could arise from severe weather - including property issues, an increase in workers' compensation claims or even a customer slipping on the ice on your premises.

6. Communicate with your customer base. To minimize the loss of disruption and potential future business, communicate with your customers in advance of a severe weather event. Let them know your hours of operation and, if you do have to close down, when you'll be open again. Open communication will help maintain your existing customer relationships even if you’re forced to temporarily close.

7. Support back up power. Make sure you have what you need to maintain equipment you can't shut down. For example, if you need to maintain a constant temperature in a warehouse or refrigerator space, have additional heaters or dedicated cooling units on back-up power in advance of a potential severe weather event.

8. IT infrastructure back-up. Today's companies need to maintain their data 24/7/365, which requires a concrete plan for IT infrastructure back-up. Depending on how critical the data is, each company will have a different solution. Some will have physical back-up data sites outside of the region. Others may have cloud-based redundancy, which may provide the most protection while also allowing employees to access data remotely.

Companies that have taken the necessary steps to prepare for severe weather-related setbacks, closures, potential liabilities and exposures should not only survive the winter months, but can potentially even thrive by turning weather events into an opportunity to maintain or re-establish market share and meet the needs of their employees, and most importantly, their current and future customers.