Business owners and commercial property managers are scrambling to take last-minute action that might help minimize the damage and protect their livelihoods as Hurricane Irene approaches the North Carolina coast.
“When disaster strikes, the company that reopens its doors first is the most likely to survive,” said Mark Lewis, vice president of InStar, which specializes in protecting businesses and helping them recover as quickly as possible after natural and man-made disasters. “No matter how loyal your customers are, they can’t afford to wait for you when your competition is already up and running.”
Based on real-world experiences, the company has devised a quick list of the most effective actions to take when time is limited. These recommendations can make a critical difference when it comes to minimizing business interruption:
- Go get a contractor right now. If you don’t already have a strong relationship with a quality contractor, don’t wait another minute. After disaster strikes, you’ll be stuck with whoever is still available – if anyone is available at all.
- Take inventory. If a disaster appears imminent, it is critical to have a recent account of the building’s inventory to provide to the insurer. Make several copies, both physical and electronic, and keep them in different locations.
- Review your insurance policy. It may or may not be too late to add more coverage, but it can save a lot of time and headaches to know in advance what is and isn’t in your policy.
- Inspect your roof. Any unsecured objects or debris can easily tear a huge hole in a roof or wall. Also, be sure to unclog exterior and interior drains to facilitate run-off and prevent additional flooding.
- Stage a drill. It’s never too late for this one. Make sure every person knows his or her roles; knows where the shut-offs are for water, electrical and gas; and has emergency contact numbers. Also, make sure all employee contact information is up to date with cell phones and email addresses.
- Get your camera ready with lots of batteries. Perhaps the most helpful thing property managers can do right after disaster strikes is to photograph the damage, assuming that it is safe to do so. This includes capturing initial floodwater levels, roof damage, structural damage and downed power lines and trees.
- Back up vital computer data. When you’re removing assets to a safer location, don’t forget your digital assets as well. The information on a computer often is many times more valuable than the computer itself.
- Don’t miss an opportunity to upgrade. Now is the time to evaluate any renovations your business already needs. It often is cost effective to perform these upgrades side-by-side with disaster recovery efforts. This strategy serves to avoid any future remodeling disruption or added expenses.
And here are a few “don’ts” from Lewis:
- Don’t waste time taping windows. It doesn't work.
- Don’t delay putting plywood over your windows because you don’t want customers to think you’re closed. A handmade “We’re Open!” sign solves that problem. Everyone understands a hurricane is coming, and no one will hold it against you.
“Of course, it’s better not to wait until the last minute to prepare for a natural disaster,” says Lewis. “Given a little more time, our first and foremost advice is to ensure you have sufficient insurance coverage for wind-, water- and earthquake-related damages. In addition, make sure you have adequate business-interruption insurance, not just to cover your losses but to help defray the costs of a temporary business location if necessary.”