A national programme is needed to help small and medium-sized businesses prepare for crises such as the Christchurch earthquakes, Massey University says.
Its centre for small and medium enterprise research found a high degree of vulnerability and a lack of formal crisis planning among small businesses across the country.
The centre's latest BusinesSMEasure report was the first to examine the effects of the Christchurch quakes on SMEs throughout New Zealand, as well as the SMEs' readiness for dealing with a crisis or natural disaster, Massey said.
The report recommended a high priority should be given to a national programme of measures to improve SME resilience.
Only a small proportion of businesses surveyed had a formal business continuity plan and fewer than 10 per cent had a written crisis management plan. Of those, fewer than half had tested their plan in practice.
Centre director Professor David Deakins said the experience of dealing with a natural disaster had left surviving SMEs in Canterbury better prepared to cope with a crisis than their counterparts in other regions.
But that was not through formal continuity planning, but because of changes made to their businesses. Those might be better computer and online systems, the ability to trade outside their premises, or additional staff training so their people knew what action to take in a crisis.
Components of a programme to improve resilience would include training in business continuity planning, using online computer systems for financial and office management, methods for maintaining customers and building networks, and coverage of psychological elements, such as dealing with trauma.