The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that 2013’s Atlantic hurricane season (which runs June through October) will be busier than average, with up to five major hurricanes. As we enter the period that typically sees the most storm activity (mid-August through October), it’s crunch time for small-business owners who might be affected by major storm activity – which in recent years has encompassed the entire Gulf and East Coasts.
But here’s the kicker: Your business doesn’t have to be based on the Atlantic seaboard to face economic fallout if and when a hurricane hits. If any of your clients, suppliers, or remote contractors lives or works in hurricane range, your business could be negatively impacted by a storm. With that in mind, here’s a guide all small-business owners, regardless of location, can use to weather the weather at hand.
Small Business Guide to Hurricane Season
Phase 1: Protect Your Property
When most of us think of hurricane damage, we see rain-lashed palm trees, boarded-up buildings and floods. Maybe some rubble thrown in for good measure. But these camera-ready images only tell one part of the story. When planning to keep your property safe from hurricane winds and rains, be sure to consider:
Securing Your Building or Office Space
This requires getting materials handy ahead of time: Plastic tarps, duct tape, boards, tools, a generator, etc. If you rent your office space, communicate with your landlord about your expected duties for preparing the building. If you own the space, track NOAA alerts about how to prepare for the storm. In addition, make sure your gutters are clean, your drains are clear, and you’ve repaired any preexisting leaks.
Storing Your Merchandise and Equipment
Nonperishable inventory requires flood-proof storage, while perishables might demand that you purchase a generator to prevent power outages from ruining your supplies. Remember, too, that equipment like cash registers, computers and furniture should be protected from potential water damage.
Storing Company Vehicles and Other Outdoor Gear
Signs that can be knocked or blown over should be secured and company cars should be stored where they won’t risk flooding.
Having Cleanup Materials on Hand
Lots of small-business owners forget to prepare for the recovery phase of a hurricane. If you’d rather get your storefront or office back in order than wait in line at Home Depot for cleanup supplies, get yours beforehand: Suction hoses or pumps, trash bags, protective gloves, a carpet fan, a dehumidifier, shovels and other essential gear.
Phase 2: Protect Your Team
Whether you rely on part-timers, contractors or full-time employees to help you run your business, one of your most important duties is to keep them informed when a serious storm hits. You can ensure that your team is safe and ready to get your business back to normal after a storm when you:
Encourage Employees to Prepare their Families
If your workers don’t have personal emergency plans in place, they’ll be scrambling to find food, water and shelter after a major storm – which means they’ll rightfully be focusing on their families and homes rather than returning to work for you. Encourage them to stock up on the necessities and develop a personal emergency plan to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Establish an Emergency Plan
What if cell phones can’t be charged or towers are overloaded with calls?
This happened after Superstorm Sandy last year, making it tough for people to get in touch with each other. Put an emergency plan of action in place and review it with your team. It should outline expectations for reporting to work, starting cleanup operations, and making contact after a storm so that you’re not struggling to give directions when you have no signal.
Stock Up on Provisions
Should weather prevent you or your team from leaving your business premises after a storm hits, you want to be prepared with emergency provisions at your office or storefront: Bottled water, canned food, flashlights and batteries, a first-aid kit, basic tools, etc.
Follow the News
Today, you have lots of options for staying up-to-date about the latest hurricane watches and warnings. If you don’t have TV or radio access, get one of the hurricane tracking apps that send updates about weather conditions, evacuation warnings and other essential storm info directly to your mobile device.
Phase 3: Protect Your Assets
Securing your physical property is only half of the storm prep you’ll need to do to safeguard your most valuable assets. The other half involves making sure your non-tangible assets are safe:
Invest in Offsite Backups of Important Documents
Payroll information, accounts receivable, planning docs, contracts, insurance policies, leases and other essential documents should be stored in multiple formats so you can access them even after damage. Backing up documents on a cloud, such as Google Docs, is an excellent way to storm-proof your most important files.
Make an Emergency Contact List
If the power’s out, you won’t be able to scroll through your contacts to get in touch with your employees, clients, suppliers or insurance company. Print essential contact information and be sure everyone on your team has a copy.
Update Your Insurance Policies
Most standard Property Insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for water damage, floods and hurricanes. If you think your business could be affected by a storm this season, call your insurance agent and ask about updating your policies. Ask specifically about Business Interruption Insurance, which replaces income you are unable to earn when you’re forced to shut down because of a covered property event.
For those with suppliers vulnerable to hurricanes: You can even get a policy called Contingent Business Interruption coverage, which provides payments when one of your suppliers is affected by a major storm.
Create and Have Available Emergency Action Plans
When you’re focused on cleaning up a flooded building, it’s easy to forget about the big-picture tasks that need to be done. So print out emergency action plans that outline your primary responsibilities: Steps for documenting property damage and submitting insurance claims, protocol for ordering supplies or canceling orders, instructions for starting your generator, steps for contacting a backup supplier if your primary contact is offline because of the storm, etc.
Having robust insurance is important to ensure a speedy recovery from a major storm. Make the claims-submission process go as smoothly as possible by having a camera ready to document any damage for which you’ll be seeking benefits.
Hurricane Photo via Shutterstock
In addition to the fact that increasingly the entire Atlantic seaboard has been affected in Hurricane season (last year, for example, many parts of the East Coast rarely touched by Hurricanes felt the wrath of Sandy), I think your point about remote workers is also an important one. And not just for Hurricanes! In fact, as even small businesses begin to employ remote workers all over the world, in places like the Philippines, for instance, it’s important to be sensitive to how weather and other conditions in other parts of the world can affect your business no matter where you may be located.
I need this. My country has just gone through a hurricane. Although we have kept all the assets and employees secured, we can see a significant drop in sales. Maybe you can also write something about recovering after the hurricane. It’s hard to get sales when people are just recovering from a tragic event.
We don’t get hurricane season over here in the UK – what we do get is a lot of rain. My thoughts go out to everyone who goes through the hurricane season everywhere every year – businesses and families.
As someone working in Illinois, this article reminds me that it is almost time for snow again! These were good pointers but does anyone have other advice for preparing for risky winter weather as well?