Disaster happens. When it takes the form of a hurricane -- like Isabel, which smashed into much of the East Coast last fall and did billions of dollars in damage -- at least you get a heads up that a catastrophe is on the way. That way, you can take steps to reduce the impact on your business. Preparations include everything from buying supplies to readying jobsites and offices.

Here's a suggested list of items to stock up on.

* D batteries. "You couldn't find D batteries within 20 miles after the hurricane," says Robert Criner, president of Criner Construction Co. in Yorktown, Va.

* Flashlights.

* Generators and gas to power them. "If you have two generators running all the time, you can run power tools," says Don Strobel, president of Strobel Building in St. Petersburg, Fla.

* Tarps and tar paper. "You'll need things to button up houses after storm damage," Criner says.

* Plywood. "You need plywood and plastic the most, and they are the hardest to get after a storm hits," Strobel says.

* Rubber gloves, safety glasses, safety masks, and wet suits to help you safely remove wet insulation.

Here are some items you might want to rent. ("You can always cancel the order," Criner points out.)

* Generators.

* Chainsaws.

* Big fans.

* Dehumidifiers.

You don't need to spend a penny to do some other, equally important things. Josh Baker, president of BOWA Builders, McLean, Va., suggests putting on temporary gutters or extending gutters with an inexpensive hose to keep water away from houses. Secure items that might fly away. Consider delaying excavations, Baker adds. You might lose a day or two -- but that's better than five days to redo a flooded foundation.

Another practical delay might be in deliveries. "Put off deliveries of drywall and other products that would be damaged by wind and rain," suggests Dave Tyson of Tyson Renovations, Charlotte, N.C.

Back up computer files, Criner says, and print out vital information and phone numbers. Charge up cell phones and battery-powered tools. Plug in a corded phone that doesn't depend on electricity. "Know where and when you're going to meet your own people," Criner says.

Also, consider telling your customers that water leaking into their home constitutes an emergency. "We want to know right away if there's a leak," Baker says. "Homeowners will say, 'We didn't want to bother you,' but actually, more damage is done the longer they wait." --Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.