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 isnt one of them. And thats 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:
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.
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.
Storm Preparation: Tornadoes
Unlike blizzards and hurricanes, which you can generally see coming, tornadoes develop quickly, leaving you only minutes to respond. Thats why its 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:
Floods happen quickly, meaning youve got to respond effectively and efficiently to ensure the safety of your employees and others at your workplace. If theres 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.