Cleaning Up After Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Preparedness for Business: A Small Business Owner’s Guide

For small business owners who live along and near America’s coastlines, springtime means it’s time to dust off the hurricane response plan.

The annual storm season stretches from June 1 to November 30 in the Eastern and Southern states of Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and extends from May 15 to November 30 in the Western states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.

Residents of these states know the major devastation hurricanes can wreak. In 2018, Hurricanes Florence and Michael killed nearly 100 people and caused $50 billion in damage. A significant portion of those financial losses included destroyed small businesses that never reopened after floodwaters receded. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates 40% of small businesses close permanently immediately after natural disasters strike, and another 25% close a year after. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to Mother Nature’s wrath because they often have only one location. If that one location gets destroyed in a hurricane’s high winds, heavy rains and storm surge, the business is effectively shuttered.

For the 2019 hurricane season, prognosticators expect 13 named storms, including five hurricanes and two major hurricanes. So, small businesses in America’s coastal regions must make hurricane safety a priority. Small businesses should understand the five hurricane categories, assess their businesses’ risk levels and create a hurricane response plan.

First, small business owners should shield their assets with flood insurance. If a small business owner’s private insurer doesn’t carry flood insurance, they can contact the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The organization offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters and small business owners if their community participates in NFIP. The average flood insurance policy costs about $700 a year, NFIP said.

Next, small business owners must establish an evacuation plan for the business and its workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends including conditions that will activate the plan; chain of command; emergency functions and who will perform them; specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits; procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors; and equipment for personnel. Small business owners should educate themselves on their local community’s emergency plans, warning signals and shelters. Small business owners should also ensure all their workers know what to do in an emergency, practice evacuation plans regularly and update the hurricane response plan based on lessons learned from practice, OSHA adds.

Next, hurricane preparedness for businesses must include property protection. Small business owners should have the business’ roof inspected to gauge its structural integrity in the event of high winds and make any necessary repairs. Like homeowners, owners should install plywood or storm shutters over all windows before a hurricane’s landfall to prevent damage from high winds and flying objects. Heavy furniture should be secured and electronics should be strapped down. Sand bags can be stacked within and around a business to block moderate rising flood waters.

Small business owners should also secure important business documents, including tax records, legal documents and financial documents. They should collect and store these important documents in one place so they can be removed easily and brought to a safe location. If possible, owners should also make physical and/or digital copies as backups.

Prior to the storm, owners should take a workplace inventory and photograph their workplaces to establish a record of the business’ physical assets. Photo evidence and documentation will later help insurance claims adjusters or federal relief agencies size up the damage and make their appraisals more accurately. The quicker a business can be rebuilt and refurbished, the quicker workers can regain a sense of normalcy and earn a paycheck and the quicker owners can get back to focusing on the business and its bottom line.

For owners and workers who cannot evacuate, a survival/relief kit should be kept and regularly maintained at the workplace. This should include non-perishable foods and water to last three days; a manual can opener; a first-aid kit; blankets and pillows; a battery-powered or hand-crank radio; flashlights and extra batteries; emergency contact information; an electric generator; duct tape; garbage bags; and a cellphone charger and back-up cellphone battery. FEMA offers additional recommendations on building a survival/relief kit here.

After a hurricane has passed and the damage is done, small business owners might need help from workers to get the workplace cleaned up and running again. But owners must take certain precautions to prevent injuries and illnesses when these repairs are taking place. Precautions should include providing appropriate personal protective equipment; preventing people from performing tasks they do not have the training, experience or physical ability to handle; being cautious of wet, slippery, uneven or elevated surfaces that could lead to an employee getting hurt from a slip, trip or fall – the most common causes of employee injuries; and being careful when using portable generators, making sure they are properly ventilated to prevent electrical fires, shocks or electrocutions, or harm from toxic carbon monoxide exposure.

If a small business sustained extensive damage, the cleanup is best left to trained professionals who will make sure the work is completed safely and meets required building codes. They know how to work safely around hazards common after a hurricane, such as contaminated floodwaters and downed power lines. OSHA has a helpful fact sheet that details potential hazards and preventive measures to keep employees safe during disaster clean up and recovery.

For comprehensive information about hurricane preparedness for businesses, FEMA offers a downloadable Hurricane Ready Business Toolkit that includes a how to prepare for a hurricane list.

EMPLOYERS is committed to helping small businesses operate safer, more efficient workplaces. Contact EMPLOYERS® today to learn more about our cost-effective workers’ compensation insurance.

The information provided is intended to provide a general overview. This information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. EMPLOYERS® makes no warranties for the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of the information provided, and will not be responsible for any actions taken based on the information contained herein. If you have legal questions or need legal advice, please consult an attorney.