Small Business Playbook: How to Prepare for a Storm or Weather Emergency

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Of all the things you plan for, weather probably isn’t one of them. And that’s a mistake.

Weather events impact small businesses every day. In fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Small Business Administration provided 46,000 businesses and individuals with $2.8 billion in disaster loans.

“No business owner wants to think it will happen to them,” admits Bob Freitag, president of AmeriClaims Inc., a firm of public adjusters in Indian Trail, NC. “But think about Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, spring tornadoes in the Plains, and flooding in South Carolina. Weather catastrophes happen all year long.”

Click the links to learn more about preparing for specific weather disasters: 

Follow these steps to prepare for any weather emergency:

  1. Develop a Plan. How will you manage in the event of a weather disaster? Who is responsible for doing what? What do you need to run your business at a remote site? Stock up on office supplies and necessary storm supplies, and make sure you can access your data. “Data that isn’t updated until the end of a month, quarter or year may not seem as critical, but some weather-created disasters, such as a tornado or hurricane, can have an impact for a long time,” cautions Pete Robie, senior vice president of customer care for Vision Solutions, a Chicago-based disaster recovery and migration software developer. See how to create a disaster preparedness plan.
  2. Understand Your Coverage. “Your standard workers compensation insurance for employees and general liability insurance for your customers should protect your business from injuries suffered on your premises,” says Tim Davis, the sales manager for Columbia, MO-based General Liability Shop LLC. In addition to property and casualty insurance, talk to your broker about adding business interruption insurance to your business owner’s policy. “If [an owner] does not have business interruption or extra expense coverage, they will not be able to claim their loss of revenue or relocation expenses. This means that all of these expenses will have to be out-of-pocket to the owner,” Freitag adds. Read about home office insurance myths and realities.
  3. Watch the Weather. “The biggest mistake may seem like common sense, but unfortunately it happens quite frequently: Not paying attention,” says John Boucher, CEO of ModusLink Global Solutions, a supply chain logistics firm near Boston. “Knowing about a storm as soon as possible gives you and your team ample time to prepare for the worst and get as much done as possible. This additional time could be used to make crucial game-changing decisions.” A NOAA weather radio can help, especially for immediate threats like flash floods and tornadoes.

“Proper planning helps to protect employees, lessen the financial ramifications, and help the business re-open sooner to support economic recovery in the community,” explains Marianne Markowitz, an SBA regional administrator. 

 

Winter Storm Preparedness: Blizzards/Ice Storms

Graham Bergh had a set of disaster checklists ready, so when an ice storm shut down operations at Resource Revival in Mosier, OR, he and his team responded swiftly. He suggests creating “something that is printed out and posted that says ‘in case of x, do y, z and a, etc.’,” he explains. “This is especially key for things that happen less often, like weather interruptions, so people aren't wandering around saying ‘what do we do first?’”

Plans like this are key to ensuring employee safety and business continuity. “Think about the safety of your employees,” Bergh says. “Is it really wise for them to come to work the next day? Is the parking lot safe? Ours was still icy.” The unsafe conditions had minimal impact on operations, though. “Because key employees had access to remote databases from their home computers, we were able to make adjustments so that important shipments went out on time when the weather improved,” he says. “Since we had access to email, we simply emailed [customers]. They are really understanding about weather delays, as long as they still get the product within the window they need it.”

In addition to preparedness and recovery plans, these products increase your winter storm preparedness:

 

Storm Preparation: Hurricanes

When Tropical Storm Bill hit Texas, the folks at SYNERGY HomeCare in Katy were prepared. They had developed a disaster plan over a 3-month period before opening their office and the preparation enabled them to respond rapidly to the severe weather. “All of our caregivers were instructed to prepare clients for the storm with canned foods, flashlights, water, etc.,” notes co-owner Hayley Sheeks. “We also asked all caregivers to bring a change of clothing and not try to leave a residence if the water was too high. The safety of our caregivers and our clients is a top priority.”

To monitor conditions and keep in touch with stakeholders, the team relied heavily on mobile phones. “Cell phones are our lifeline,” Sheeks says. “When office phones go down, we work from our smartphones to remain updated on changes in the weather and to keep in contact with caregivers and clients.”

Your storm preparation should include a review of your response and recovery plans and a quick inventory of supplies, including:

 

Storm Preparation: Tornadoes

Unlike blizzards and hurricanes, which you can generally see coming, tornadoes develop quickly, leaving you only minutes to respond. That’s why it’s critical to have a severe weather plan in effect before you need it. Consult with your local emergency management agency or public safety department to create a tornado response plan and identify the safest location for you, your staff and visitors/customers during severe weather.

The Occupational Health & Safety Administration advises business owners to identify shelter locations, preferably underground or a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Then make sure the staff knows how to get there. “My first step is to always use a current floor plan of our office so the employees can relate to where they are working and where they need to go for the emergency,” says Gail Wert, a veteran office manager in North Carolina. Custom signs indicating routes to safe shelters and evacuation zones, and first aid kits and fire extinguishers are posted throughout the building. She also runs scheduled and unannounced tornado drills, and regularly talks with employees about the plan. 

As part of your tornado and severe storm preparation effort, review your response plans, run practice drills, and take a quick inventory of supplies, including:

 

Storm Preparation: Torrential Rain/Flooding

Floods happen quickly, meaning you’ve got to respond effectively and efficiently to ensure the safety of your employees and others at your workplace. If there’s no time to evacuate to a location outside the flood zone, move to the highest point possible in your facility. This area should be identified now to save precious seconds when the water is rising. Jim and Gaye Aaberg, owners of SYNERGY HomeCare in Bloomington, IL, designated a second-floor area for operations during a storm. Necessary office supplies and storm supplies are stored there, and it provides a safe place for people, too. “By using an elevated area, we know this room will stay dry during flooding.”

“If your business is at risk of flooding, you must make sure that you have flood insurance in place,” says Tim Davis, sales manager for Columbia, MO-based General Liability Shop LLC. “Flood insurance will not only provide coverage to repair the damage to your building, but business interruption coverage won't be responsible for flood-related losses if you don't have flood insurance in place.”

Make sure your storm preparation activities include a review of your response plans, regular evacuation drills and an inventory of supplies, including:

This article provides general information and is not intended to replace professional and personalized safety, legal or insurance advice. Consult with your own advisors and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements when creating or updating your plan.

blog comments powered by Disqus
We welcome your comments about the articles on the Staples Business Hub. Please follow these simple rules when submitting your comments: Do not mention our competitors, the price you paid for products, URLs, or your personally identifiable information (such as your full name or address). Be considerate and courteous. Do not attack or insult other users, use violent language, or engage in name-calling. These types of comments will be removed. Our moderation team may read comments before they are displayed.
Deals! Get them now
SUBMIT
Join us on: