Preparing Your Business for Storms

So, you have your new business idea, and you’re excited to start it. Perhaps you are busy with the “business” side of things, i.e. accounting, budgets, and working out a 3-year plan for growing your client base.

One thing you might not be thinking about at all is storm preparation.

Some people, like me, are fortunate to be running their small business entirely online, which means there’s no need to worry about equipment and a workspace. However, that’s the not the case for most small business owners.

A staggering 40% of small businesses won’t reopen after taking a hit from a natural disaster. With the rise of hurricanes and tropical storms, small businesses need to start preparing for inclement weather. You may think “I’m not in an area that’s at risk,” but Houstonians thought the same thing and experienced one of the biggest (and most costly) hurricanes of all time.

Even if your business is still standing after a major storm, the damage can force you to close all operations for remodeling, and those renovation costs could potentially be way out of your budget. If you don’t have insurance coverage, that adds another huge blow to your bank account when a storm strikes!

There’s no need to stress, but if you are prepared, you’ll feel better in the event a storm comes unexpectedly or closes down your business for longer than you were anticipating.

Natural Disaster Impact Graphic taken from fema.gov

The first and most important step to preparing for any storm is to identify your risks.

Consider asking yourself these questions:

  1. Where am I located? Am I near an ocean or a body of water big enough to flood?
  2. Am I in an area that is susceptible to tornadoes, heavy rainfall, or tropical storms?
  3. Am I in an area that typically gets dusted in major snow storms and cold fronts every year?
  4. Has my area ever experienced wildfires or am I in a heavily wooded area? If you’re in California, there’s also concern around debris runoff, which could result in life-threatening mudslides when there are rainstorms.
  5. How often does my area experience an earthquake? If you’re used to them, still revise your plan as the planet is shifting in ways scientists previously didn’t believe possible, as evidenced by a major earthquake in Mexico that broke through an entire tectonic plate.
  6. What do my surroundings look like and is there anything that could pose a threat during a storm, such as trees, fencing, street signs, store signs, and flagpoles?

Naturally, as you could probably guess, the next best step is figuring out how to protect your business and employees from your identified risks. This will depend on what type of storm you are anticipating.

For an example, if you are a small shop owner living on the coast of South Carolina preparing for a Hurricane, here are a couple of things you might consider doing to protect your storefront:

  • Install shutters or plywood to protect your windows and doors (you could even purchase super strong hurricane shutters, which are worth the investment if your area frequently experiences tropical storms)
  • Stow critical contents at least one foot above Base Flood Elevation (or Design Flood Elevation depending on which is higher)
  • Look over the layout of your shop and notice what could fall over easily (item displays, loose cabinets, wall hangings, expensive décor). You may want to install pieces that are locked into walls or have a good storage plan for when there is an anticipated storm.
  • Take care of the landscaping – if you have a few big trees that could be blown over or lose branches in the midst of intense wind conditions, you’ll want to eliminate those right away (or deal with broken windows, doors, or more serious damage such as knocking down your roof or walls)

This will cover some of the basics, but unfortunately, if you really want to ensure your business is protected, you need to get down to the details.

Assess the condition of your workspace before a storm. How do the walls look – are there any holes or cracks (if there is torrential rain, how are the ceilings/roof holding up)? Regular maintenance is super important to identify any risks you wouldn’t have thought about before.

Do you have carpeted floors? How is your AC/heating system? If you’re in an area with a ton of snow storms and your pipes freeze, they can burst and flood out your space, which would require you to replace your carpeting. You may opt to have tile or wood floors installed instead, and you’ll want to make sure your AC and heating unit is working well.

Aside from your pipes, tropical storms and hurricanes can bring on floods. Look at your community’s flood map to get a better understanding of your risk and how to mitigate (storm damage prevention). You can also check out FEMA’s floodproofing documents on non-residential buildings to help you prepare.

Your landlord will most likely require you to have some general liability or business insurance, but this is also a time to think about getting business interruption insurance, flood insurance, and a policy that covers other storm damages to assist with any building repairs.

For most businesses, there is important equipment and data that needs to be protected. First and foremost, this is definitely something you should have insured (cyber and data breach coverage is incredibly important to have aside from being a storm protection measure). Technology is arguably your biggest financial asset and risk if you lose it due to any circumstances.

80% of a building's value is in its equipment, inventory and other contents Graphic from fema.gov

Back up all of your data – if it’s only backed up on site, that’s an issue. Anything on site could be destroyed, including back up data. Identify a third location completely off-site where you can regularly back up data. You also should consider using a cloud system,so no matter where you are, your data survives and is easily accessible in the event people are still working remotely.

If you have physical documents, photocopy them, upload them, and store them on a cloud, and also have some printed (and laminated) copies you can stow in another location.

Another reason to be prepared aside from all I’ve previously mentioned? If you have employees, it’s important to have a plan to keep them protected. It’s one thing if your building takes a hit, but if you don’t have a smart move for evacuation or working remotely, you’re financially responsible for a whole lot more if your employees are injured while working.

Make a clear evacuation plan, and don’t wait until the last minute. Declaring emergency status days before will help to protect everyone at your business. It’s a good idea to check the weather and look at what the forecast means according to the predicted wind speeds, rainfall, etc. You can also prepare a saferoom for hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

Knowing your storms will help you to be prepared – understanding what the weather predictions mean will help you to anticipate and prepare for damages.

For hurricanes and tropical storms, there’s a lot of terminology and weather-talk to review. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, you can estimate potential property damage based on the 1-5 scale rating:

Category Sustained Winds Types of Damage Due to Hurricane Winds
1
74-95 mph
64-82 kt
119-153 km/h
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
2
96-110 mph
83-95 kt
154-177 km/h
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
3 (major)
111-129 mph
96-112 kt
178-208 km/h
Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
4 (major)
130-156 mph
113-136 kt
209-251 km/h
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
5 (major)
157 mph or higher
137 kt or higher
252 km/h or higher
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Data from https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php?large

There’s no doubt that 74-95 mph winds sound insane, and that’s the lowest on the scale. Unfortunately, if your area is forecasting a Category 1 storm, there’s no promise that it won’t progress into a Category 2 or 3. However, knowing that a hurricane is coming should be enough alert to start prepping. Then, you can begin mentally and emotionally preparing should the category increase to something devastating or catastrophic.

Even if you aren’t right on the coast, you’ll want to consider storm surge, which is defined as “the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds.” Storm surges can actually travel up to seven miles inland, so you’ll want to think about the geography of your area. In any case, do not underestimate the power of a storm and how far it can reach.

Creating an effective communication plan is incredibly important, even if you run a solo show. Maintaining an updated emergency contact list is crucial (home phone, alternative number, personal email, family contact info,) as well as having a list for the local authorities (fire department, police department, insurance carrier).

If you want to boost your business’ reputation, you might consider participating in the government’s business continuity plan, Ready Business. The organization highlights some of the following benefits: peace of mind (so you feel ready for natural disasters and other business interruptions), a window cling (let your customers and employees know you have completed the plan), and receive a Ready Business recognition certificate and web badge.

If people see how prepared you are, they’ll view you as a highly credible business who takes thorough care with everything, which could help you with customer retention.

For even more guidance and tips, FEMA has a great Hurricane Preparation Kit to check out for any kind of storm!

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