If a hurricane hits, what would your business do?

Residents aren’t the only ones who need to how to respond if water rises, high winds hit or other damage results from tropical storms, hurricanes or other emergencies.

Businesses also need a plan that will help them weather the storm, and resume their enterprise as quickly as possible.

Brian Ellis, an expert with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, offered some practical advice on how to deal with a disaster, during a recent Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (B.C. Manion)

Brian Ellis, disaster recovery coordinator for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, recently shared his expertise on the topic at a Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Plantation Palms Golf Club, in Land O’ Lakes.

Planning ahead is essential, Ellis said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that nearly 40 percent of small businesses that closed after a disaster never reopened because they lacked a Business Continuity Plan and were unprepared to recover, Ellis told those gathered.

Additionally, he said that nearly one in four businesses can expect to experience a disruptive disaster, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

To be resilient in the face of such threats, businesses need to prepare, respond and recover, he said.

Preparations should include:

  • An emergency communication plan, which includes: A staff text message/email; a method for reaching employees after hours; and, a single point of contact. Be sure to monitor the news, too, he said.

“Bad information is not what you want,” Ellis said.

  • When faced with a disaster: Be sure you have an evacuation plan, with escape routes. Establish a safe place — which may be at your home or in another location — for you to resume your business as quickly as possible. Can you operate in your parking lot?

Keep your customers informed, he said. “Put some information on Facebook. A sign on the door (of your business) can go a long way.”

Be sure your employees know their roles. “Does your staff know how to react when you’re not there?” Ellis asked.

  • Build resilience in your supply chain. If you need specific products or services to conduct your business, be sure you have secondary suppliers, in case your supplier runs out. Establish service level agreements with your suppliers so you will know what level of service you can expect, if problems arise.
  • Build alliances with others in a similar business. Establish a buddy system: You help them if they’re hit with a disaster; they help you if you’re hit with a disaster. You can lend each other staff; exchange reliable supplier information; and, share inventory.

Responding to a crisis:

  • Account for all employees after the disaster.
  • Gather accurate information after the storm, with boots on the ground.
  • Conduct a full evaluation of infrastructure and take safety measures.
  • Coordinate next steps to get the doors open.
  • Communicate with all parties involved.

Filing an insurance claim:

  • Immediately contact your insurance company.
  • Make sure your insurance company knows your temporary address and contact information.
  • Take photographs of damaged assets.
  • Leave damaged property where it is, until the adjuster has made an official report. Accompany the adjuster to point out damage during the inspection.
  • Make only repairs necessary to prevent further damage. Be aware that unauthorized repairs might not be covered.
  • Be careful in choosing contractors to make repairs. Hire only licensed contractors, who secure the appropriate building permits. (The Better Business Bureau warns you should be wary when hiring contractors after a disaster. Watch out for red flags, such as upfront cash-only payment options; contractors offering to use materials left over from another job – a common tactic of fly-by-night operators; high-pressure sales tactics; and missing contact information.)
  • If the settlement offered by the insurance company seems unfair, contact the Florida Department of Insurance Regulation by visiting FLOIR.com.

Identify lessons learned:

  • How did we improve communications?
  • Were we satisfied with the way technology was backed up and stored?
  • Did staff fully understand their roles during and after the disaster?
  • Were there delays in reopening? If so, why?
  • Are changes needed in our insurance policy?

Ellis also quoted former President John F. Kennedy, who observed, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” and famous inventor Benjamin Franklin, who said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Published June 05, 2019

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