Make sure your clients are hurricane-ready
By Dennis P. Mulligan, AIC
As we enter the 2020 hurricane season this month, it’s important to make sure your clients have a hurricane preparedness plan in place. Preparation and readiness are key in determining how well someone will weather the storm, so we’ve compiled suggestions to help your clients mitigate damages, keep employees safe, avoid losses, and get back to business as usual as quickly as possible.
Of course, it’s best to start as far ahead of an event as possible. The second best time to start planning is now. Consider worst-case scenarios and how they can impact your clients’ business, and you will be in the best possible position to keep everything running smoothly.
A hurricane preparedness plan can be broken down into three stages:
Prepare a written plan. We all need a map to get places. A plan should include a written guide outlining company protocol before, during and after the storm. It should be provided to all employees before a storm is an imminent threat, so they know ahead of time the plan and their roles. Designate someone to regularly update this plan. Consider putting together an emergency response team to identify the critical aspects of the business’s day-to-day operations, so they can assist in preparing the hurricane preparedness plan.
Compose internal and external communications. Craft messages in advance of the storm, keeping in mind that it may be necessary to prepare messages for different methods of communication—whether it’s via email, text, over the phone, on social media, the company’s website and more—to reach employees and customers. Make sure the written plan includes an updated employee contact list, including personal phone numbers and email addresses.
Organizations that keep their plan–or map–updated every year will find themselves better off. Let’s prioritize preparedness and plan on coming out of hurricane season stronger than ever before.
Think about a plan to continue business in the event of property damage. Designate a contractor to handle mitigation or repairs in the event that there is any damage to the property. Also, designate a contractor who can specifically handle repairing any critical equipment or machinery at the place of work. It can also be wise to predetermine a temporary building to continue business if the current one suffers widespread damage. It’s possible to outsource this mitigation and repair planning to a company that specializes in handling this.
Take inventory. Take photos or videos of business inventory, equipment, supplies and premises. Store this information in a weatherproof box off site.
Review insurance policies. Don’t forget to go over coverages like business interruption. It’s important to know deductibles, policy numbers and claims phone numbers. Also, review exclusions to make sure that the business is covered for flooding, windstorm damage, expenses related to setting up a temporary location, and any personal property that might be on the premises.
Review payroll. Determine if the firm can meet payroll if business income is interrupted. If yes, estimate for how long. If not, estimate how many key employees can be kept in the event of a disaster.
Purchase hurricane supplies. Buy plywood that can be cut in advance to cover windows and other openings, and clearly mark which opening these coverings match for quick installation. Purchase generators for minimal electrical power or, if the budget allows, invest in a generator that can allow the entire operation to resume; this will keep the business from losing revenue.
Back up business records. Make copies of any vital records and store them someplace safe. Use online backups for electronic data and keep paper documents in a fireproof safety deposit box. Back up all computers to an off-site location or onto portable drives.
Inspect and make repairs. Make sure that drains, gutters, and roofing are in order. Remove any branches or trees adjacent to the building that could potentially fall and damage it. Inspect and prepare exposed outbuildings.
Know an evacuation route. There’s advance notice of when a storm is approaching, so be a step ahead. It’s important in coastal areas to know what the evacuation mandates and routes are.
Develop a method to operate the critical components of the business remotely. Virtual communication methods, like videoconferencing, can help keep teams productive regardless of physical location. Explore needs and research potential technology solutions that work for the specific business.
Action as the hurricane approaches
Communicate. Give employees a copy of the most recent hurricane or storm preparedness plan. Contact vendors, customers and other key people, if necessary. Make sure a name and contact phone number are visible on location; this could be in a window or on the front door of the business. Put the company’s hurricane plan on the company website. Upload a message onto voicemail letting callers know the organization’s immediate plan.
Protect the property. Adjust inventory levels; make sure supplies aren’t in harm’s way. Check if there’s room to store items safely and reduce inventory to avoid spoilage. Remove as many goods as possible from the floor and move critical items to the safest spot available, which could even mean moving them out of the facility. Contact suppliers and discuss immediacy of replenishment of any goods.
Cover building openings with the precut/labeled plywood or shutters. Reinforce signs to withstand expected wind pressures or remove them. Sandbag any area that is subject to flooding. Anchor equipment or move it to a safe location. Secure storage of flammable liquid drums or move them to a sheltered area.
Disconnect the main electrical feeds to the facility.
Protect important documents and information. Back up the computer systems and data files on servers. This is something that should be done on a regular basis, checking occasionally to confirm the back-up system is working correctly. Relocate vital records including insurance policies to a safe place.
Don’t forget the “small” things. Fill the fuel tanks of company generators and all company-owned vehicles. Have cash on hand for post-windstorm needs, such as buying food and supplies or paying employees and contractors.
After the hurricane has passed, it’s time to assess the damages and figure out how to get critical business functions back up and running as quickly as possible. With a solid plan, speed of recovery can be a very important competitive edge.
Assess the damage and document it by taking photos and videos to accompany any insurance claims. Keep these things in mind when placing a claim:
- Drying out the property as soon as possible to mitigate losses is crucial. Hire a disaster recovery service, if necessary.
- Tarp the roofs if they are damaged.
- Contact a contractor to schedule repairs.
- Shift employees from preparedness to recovery mode. Communicate with them about the status of the workplace and what they are expected to do.
The best time to create a plan is today, if it hasn’t been done already. Organizations that keep their plan—or map—updated every year will find themselves better off. Let’s prioritize preparedness and plan on coming out of hurricane season stronger than ever before. n
Dennis Mulligan, AIC, is a commercial property supervisor at Sedgwick’s delegated authority division. He has worked in the insurance claims industry since 1988. A graduate of the University of Central Florida, Dennis enjoys the challenges of bringing about equitable resolutions in claims situations. He has to keep “equitable” in mind as he “relaxes” while partaking in his hobby as a soccer referee. He is married and has two adult children.