Damage from a hurricane

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 Risk

Residents of these states know the major devastation hurricanes can wreak. As an example, 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 the floodwaters receded. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates 40% of small businesses close permanently immediately after natural disasters strike, and another 25% close within 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.

FEMA has estimated the United States has had more than 330 major weather and climate events since 1980. Prognosticators have consistently predicted a number somewhere in the low- to mid-teens of named storms, with a third or more being hurricanes and several of those major hurricanes. In recent years, like 2021 for example, the number of major weather events has hit 20 or more, with average losses per event easily exceeding $1 billion dollars.

Mitigation Is Key

With these statistics in mind, 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. Here are six things you should do first:

Flood Insurance – Every small business owner should shield their assets with flood insurance. If your private insurer doesn’t carry flood insurance, contact the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for coverage. The average flood insurance policy costs about $700 a year, according to NFIP.

Evacuation Plan – Make one. Period. 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. Educate yourself on your local community’s emergency plans, warning signals, and shelters.

Property Protection – Good hurricane preparedness includes a property protection plan. Have your roof inspected to gauge its structural integrity in the event of high winds, and make any necessary repairs. Install plywood or storm shutters over all windows before a hurricane’s landfall. 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.

Secure Documents – Small business owners must secure important business documents, including tax records, legal documents, and financial documents. Collect and store these important documents in one place for easy removal to a safe location. If possible, make physical and/or digital copies as backups.

Photos of Inventory – Prior to the storm, take a workplace inventory and photograph your workplace to establish a record of your physical assets. Photo evidence and documentation help claims adjusters or federal relief agencies size up the damage for more accurate appraisals. The quicker you can rebuild and refurbish, the quicker you and your workers can bounce back.

Survival/Relief Kit –  In the instance you and your workers cannot evacuate, a survival/relief kit should be kept and maintained at the workplace. 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 cell phone charger and backup cell phone battery. FEMA offers additional recommendations on building a survival/relief kit here.

Recovery Post Storm

After a hurricane has passed, you might need help from workers to get the workplace cleaned up and running again. Take precautions to prevent injuries and illnesses, including providing appropriate personal protective equipment; preventing people from performing tasks they do not truly have the ability to handle; being cautious of wet, slippery, or uneven 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 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 cleanup and recovery.

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

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.