Irma, Katrina, Harvey, Sandy and Andrew. Hurricanes make headlines as they rip through states with a vengeance. Long after the storm has passed, however, the devastation and cleanup remains as communities, families and businesses work day and night to rebuild. September is National Preparedness Month, and as business owners, we want to help you be prepared in the event of a natural disaster.
When Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September 2017, Clearwater, Fla.-based Bob’s Carpet & Flooring fell victim to the category 4 storm, losing power and signage, business and manpower. “Business was effected for several weeks due to evacuations, including our employees,” said Dave Snedeker, executive vice president.
And with the demand for post-storm repairs in the area being so high, business at Bob’s Carpet & Flooring was put on hold and repairs took several months to be completed. As a result, Snedeker reports that the company’s revenue for the year was negatively impacted.
In Denham Springs, La., just one year before, a bad storm and nonstop heavy rain, which eventually turned to flooding, completely devastated the small town overnight.
“We really had no warning,” said Connie Hickman, office manager, The Floor Store & More. “It wasn’t raining Thursday when we left work at 5 p.m. Around midnight, I heard the bad storm hit; within hours it already had the rivers near flood stage. Our employees couldn’t leave their homes due to flooding everywhere. Friday night it was in the store, and by late Saturday night, it had went straight through the whole town, on its way to the next one.”
Following the storm in August, the town saw yet another storm and more flooding that same year, and since 2016, it has experienced tornados and a level 1 hurricane, causing further devastation to the community, including The Floor Store & More and its employees’ homes.
“It has left businesses empty that never came back; residents that just left their homes and started over somewhere else without even going back,” said Hickman. “We have had not only the store flood, but also employees of the store had damage to their homes where they had great loss.”
With a flooded store and damaged computers, merchandise and supplies, The Floor Store & More and its employees were left with very little.
“We went days without pay because not only did the store flood, so did the computers and checks,” Hickman says. “Everything in store was destroyed. In addition to working to get their homes gutted, the store’s employees went weeks without pay as they also helped to gut the store so that the operation could begin running again.
Expert Advice on Storm Preparedness
Natural disasters can strike at any moment without warning, and experts say it’s critical that businesses protect themselves beforehand with proper insurance and backed up data, as well as emergency, communication and business continuity plans that will allow them to get back on their feet quickly.
“For businesses, surviving and thriving after disasters is all about reopening fast,” says Cate Steane of Make it Happen Preparedness Services. “Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) finds that, of businesses forced to close by disaster, 90% fail within the year unless they are able to reopen within five days.”
Steane suggests that being the first flooring store to reopen in a disaster-impacted area will give retailers an enormous competitive advantage, retaining customers and acquiring new ones. “The revenue generated by this business will enable you to serve your community (e.g., replace the flooring at a beloved local nonprofit organization). People have a long memory for good deeds, and your employees will feel great about working for you, deepening employee loyalty and retention.”
According to the Spring 2019 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, 61% of entrepreneurs have a continuity plan in place in case of a disaster, meaning they have purchased an insurance policy, backed up files, implemented a communication protocol for employees and made structural updates to their building.
“In general, having an insurance policy is a good idea, but if you live in an area prone to natural disasters (i.e. Florida for hurricanes) then it is an even better idea to check how extensive your coverage is,” says Logan Allec, CPA and owner of moneydoneright.com. “Insurance policies generally provide X amount of dollars extra for adding different natural disaster coverages. The difference in a couple of hundred dollars a month, and what could be even millions in damage completely demonstrates the necessity of extensive insurance policies, especially in areas prone to natural disasters.”
If your area is prone to certain types of disasters, Fundera business finance expert Priyanka Prakash recommends specialized insurance. “For example, you can only buy flood insurance from an insurer that participates in the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP regulates flood insurance rates and sets waiting periods. If you’re already a victim of a natural disaster, there are financial resources you can reach out to, such as SBA disaster loans.”
Steane notes that if the premiums seem expensive, that means the event is likely to occur and likely to be catastrophic. “It may not seem like a worthwhile investment if you lease your space. But your business interruption coverage will not apply to earthquakes or floods unless you have coverage for these risks.”
With business interruption insurance, loss of income that a business suffers after a disaster is covered. The income loss covered may be due to disaster-related closing of the business facility or due to the rebuilding process after a disaster. “Business interruption insurance is the single most important factor in a business’s ability to survive an emergency, yet only 35% of businesses have this coverage,” says Steane.
Data Protection and Backups
Another important measure to take is backing up business data and contacts, which can be as simple as using a flash drive or a cloud-based system.
“One of the most important things retailers can do to prepare and protect themselves from a storm is to backup important business data,” said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. “If you have existing, valuable paperwork like insurance claims, payroll information, and tax forms, organize and store these documents in an off-site location. Make additional copies as needed. Create backups of electronic files by scanning, uploading, and syncing them your company’s cloud-based storage system. Once your files are in the cloud, you’ll also be able to access them at any time and location and maintain the peace of mind in knowing your documents have been sufficiently protected.”
An IT services provider or MSP can be an invaluable resource to help with business disaster recovery, says Jennifer Mazzanti, CEO of eMazzanti Technologies. eMazzanti Technologies built its business on helping others recover from disasters like 9/11, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and several major winter storms.
“Cybersecurity protection and IT disaster recovery are all part of the same business critical objective, protecting valuable business assets,” said Mazzanti. “They must be considered as a whole and addressed together as part of a comprehensive business continuity plan. If not working together, then both are less effective.
At The Floor Store & More, a backup to the backup is now in place. “We do store everything in a cloud program once a week, however, we still prefer the flash drive to be backed up right at closing every work day,” said Hickman. She says this allows office personnel to take the flash drives home with them in the event that files need to be downloaded on a computer outside of the store.
Protect your People
In addition to protecting your business in the event or wake of a storm, it’s also important to protect your employees. “Showing your employees you care about their safety will breed loyalty,” says Steane. “Loyal employees will show up as soon as possible to help you reopen.”
To protect employees long before the disaster strikes, Steane suggests first making the workplace physically safe. “This is especially important in earthquake country. Then make sure that each employee has a family emergency plan. In a disaster, people will always take care of their family first before they think about how to help their employer reopen. Consider offering an incentive, such as an emergency supply kit, to every employee who brings in a completed family emergency plan. FEMA and the Red Cross have good family plan templates.”
Communication lines can often become blurred when disaster strikes. To avoid any confusion, Ryan Larison, small business channel executive at Bank of America, suggests having a clear plan in place so your employees, customers, vendors and others know what to should do if a disaster hits. This plan should include employees knowing who to report to, where to go and what to do if a natural disaster takes place.
Experts also suggest keeping safety kits that include items such as water and non-perishable food on hand in case employees and customers are unable to leave the store during or immediately after a storm.