This week marks one year since Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, flooding homes and drowning out entire neighborhoods. The area is still recovering from the extensive damage. Thank you to The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and all organizations and people who supported the restoration efforts. Check out some of our articles with information about Harvey and hurricane preparedness.
What to Do Before and After a Hurricane
Considering the fact that about one in four affected businesses never reopen after a major natural disaster, it may be really difficult for a proprietor to find the silver lining of a storm cloud – especially when a hurricane is on the way. Yet, it is quite possible for a small business not only to weather the storm, but also to experience a significant rebound after a hurricane – as long as it is well-prepared and well-protected.
Proper business hurricane preparedness can ensure employees’ safety, minimize financial loss, and expedite recovery. Proactive behavior and advance planning can save a business owner thousands of dollars in lost revenue due to structural damage, building content damage, interruption of business operations, and employee displacement. Therefore, it’s crucial for a company to have a well-established hurricane response plan in place.
ServiceMaster Restore Video – Commercial Large loss Recovery
Your decisions and actions as a business owner can help protect your property during a disaster and ensure quick and efficient recovery. To be able to stay afloat during a storm and resume normal operations as soon as possible after the accident, you need to take the right steps to prepare your business for an emergency situation. So, how to get ready for a hurricane?
What to Do Before a Hurricane
A hurricane brings high winds and torrential rains that put your commercial building and company property at great risk. To reduce the risk and minimize the negative impact of the disaster, you need to foresee all possible dangers and take appropriate precautionary measures well ahead of time. So, before a storm hits, be sure to:
1) Get Proper Insurance
Getting the right coverage is the first item in a business preparedness checklist – it may mean the difference between quick and easy recovery and closing for good. To make an informed decision about your business and choose the right type of insurance, you need to review the available options and find out what different commercial policies cover:
- Property insurancecovers the damage inflicted on company property – buildings, furnishings, equipment, etc.;
- Business income coverage reimburses the net income that would have been earned during the recovery period and the normal operating expenses incurred in that time (including payroll);
- Extra expense coverage pays for the additional costs that an organization incurs to continue operations while its property is being repaired or replaced after a disaster.
Good to remember: Make sure you have a complete inventory of your company’s possessions and up-to-date videos and photos of both the interior and exterior of your commercial building to be able to verify insurance claims when necessary.
2) Minimize the Risk of Damage
Your next step is to take adequate hurricane precautions to protect your property in the event of a storm.
What to do to prepare for a hurricane (before hurricane season):
- Verify that your building meets the specified building codes;
- Make sure only safe materials (non-combustible materials, water-proof materials, etc.) are used in risky areas;
- Invest in quality fire-alarm systems, sump pumps, and other effective protective equipment;
- Install storm shutters over glass doors and windows;
- Invest in a backup generator to keep your business operational in the event of a power outage during or after a storm;
- Inspect the roof and the foundation of the building on a regular basis and maintain them to keep them in good condition;
- Repair any leaks in ceilings, walls, doors, and windows as soon as you discover them;
- Keep air ducts clean and the HVAC system – in good working order;
- Clean drains, gutters, and downspouts twice a year;
- Remove any branches or trees that may fall over the building during a tornado or hurricane;
- Bolt large furniture pieces and storage shelves to wall studs;
- Inspect all emergency equipment and supplies (alarm systems, sandbags, survival kits, etc.) at regular intervals and replace any faulty or missing items;
- Secure safe escape routes from the buildings and free access to emergency exits.
How to prepare for a hurricane (when a hurricane approaches):
- Remove antennas, signs, and loose objects from the roof;
- Bring inside all displays, signs, and other objects that are usually left outside;
- Put sandbags around the building foundations and secure first floor doorways with duct tape to block or slow water penetration;
- Close all doors and windows (don’t forget to close the shutters and draw the blinds as well);
- Move equipment and furniture pieces away from windows and cover them with heavy plastic sheeting;
- Place electronics and documents in the innermost part of the building on tables, desks, counter tops, etc. – away from the floor and far from any windows;
- Put small loose items (books, decorations, office supplies, etc.) in cabinets and drawers;
- Remove pictures, mirrors, clocks, plaques, hanging plants, and other hanging items from walls;
- Remove important and valuable content from lower drawers on ground floor and store them at higher elevation (preferably in water-proof containers);
- Disconnect all electrical appliances and electronic devices.
3) Create a Business Hurricane Preparedness Plan
Having a detailed hurricane preparedness plan of safety procedures and evacuation routes is critical for the survival of your business and the well-being of your employees during a violent storm. You need to develop an efficient emergency response strategy that will allow you not only to protect your staff, property, and assets, but also to recover quickly and reopen your business within days after the disaster. So, be sure to:
- Create evacuation plans – Identify the shortest and safest evacuation routes out of your property and post escape route signs throughout the building. Mark emergency exits and make sure the evacuation directions placed on the walls are clear and easy to follow;
- Stock up on emergency supplies – It is of paramount importance that you have all the essential equipment and supplies necessary to protect your property and ensure the safety of your employees in the event of a disaster. Your emergency supplies should include sandbags, heavy plastic sheeting, large pieces of plywood, duct tape, hand tools, flashlights, extra batteries, signaling devices, a battery-operated radio, personal protection gear (especially dust masks and safety goggles), first-aid kits, basic hygiene items, bottled water, and non-perishable food;
- Plan your actions in the event of a hurricane warning – Identify the safest places in the building where people can gather if they need to stay inside; designate a safe area to store sensitive equipment before the disaster strikes; find the location of the main power switch so that you can quickly turn off the electricity if necessary; keep the most important company documents and valuables at hand so that you can easily take them along during an evacuation; etc.
4) Ensure Effective Communication
Once you’ve created a reliable hurricane response plan, make sure all the company employees are familiar with it, know exactly what to do in the event of a disaster, and fully understand their responsibilities:
- Review the disaster preparedness plan with your employees at the beginning of hurricane season to remind them of the company safety procedures in the event of an emergency. Make sure everyone knows where the safest places in the building and the emergency supplies are. Stress that you expect the personnel to help ensure the safety of all customers, business partners, and other people who are at the company property when a disaster strikes;
- Inform employees of their individual roles and responsibilities during a storm. Make sure everyone knows what is expected from them and how to perform their emergency-response duties quickly and effectively;
- Establish a reliable communication system that will allow you to stay in touch with your employees before, during, and after a storm, even if cell towers or phone lines become unavailable – the possible options include point-to-point private lines, walkie-talkies, high-frequency radios, satellite communications, etc. Consider creating emergency email accounts for all employees with a free Web-based email service (your existing company email system may not function in the aftermath of a natural disaster, especially if it is through a local internet or cable television provider);
- Assign key employees to contact customers, business partners, suppliers, and creditors immediately after the disaster and send them updates during the recovery period. This will help keep the public informed as to whether your business is still up and running, how the recovery is going, etc. Do not forget to notify clients and business partners of any potential delays in deliverables or services and ask them to allow you some extra time to complete your commitments.
5) Back Up Essential Information and Important Documents
Losing essential company data and documentation can be catastrophic for a business, so when preparing for a hurricane, you are strongly advised to back up all the important information and business records that may be lost or damaged during the disaster:
- Make paper copies of all important company documents and store the originals in a secure offsite location;
- Keep paper documents in waterproof containers and store them as high as possible;
- Scan important paperwork (insurance policies, tax returns, bank statements, legal contracts, etc.) and save the electronic files on an external drive that you keep offsite;
- Store important data on digital media in an offsite facility or use a cloud-based solution to make sure the information won’t be lost;
- Perform daily backups – store files in the cloud or mail everything you’re currently working on to yourself (use a Web server that can be accessed from anywhere);
- Create a list of contacts that are crucial to business operations (employees, banks, lawyers, accountants, suppliers, etc.) and make several copies of it (keep one in your office, another – with the company emergency supplies, still another – at a safe offsite location, etc.)
If off-site operation is possible, plan for an alternate location where you can continue working in the event of a hurricane, tornado, or another natural disaster.
Listen to local, state, and national radio stations for hurricane updates and get ready to evacuate the site if necessary. Keep in contact with your employees to coordinate emergency activities and make sure everyone is out of danger.
What to Do After a Hurricane
Once the storm is over, it’s time to focus on getting your business back on track:
- Contact your business’s insurance provider immediately after the hurricane passes and inform them of the situation. Begin the claims process as soon as possible to get timely assistance and minimize the negative impact of the disaster;
- Wait until authorities indicate that it is safe to return to the site and put on appropriate safety gear before re-entering your commercial building. Your property will likely have experienced considerable physical damage from the hurricane – from shattered windows to collapsed ceilings and flooding. To prevent personal injuries while inspecting the damage and initiating the clean-up process, make sure you (and everyone else who enters the site) wear adequate protection gear, including construction gloves, rubber boots, hard hats, and long-sleeved and long-legged clothes (to reduce the risk of cuts and infections);
- Assess the scope of the damage. Carefully inspect your property and document the destruction – take detailed notes and plenty of photos of any structural damage, ruined company equipment and furnishings, etc. These records will serve as proof when filing an insurance claim for the damage;
- Salvage as much of your property as you can – take surviving documents, valuables, equipment, etc. to a safe location and remove flood water and debris (if it is safe to handle) as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your property;
- Call professional disaster restoration specialists to begin repairs and mitigation procedures. Your property will have sustained severe water damage and wind damage from the flooding and high winds, so professional help will be required to restore it to its original standing. The experts have the specialized equipment and rich experience to tackle the job correctly, so you can resume business operations as soon as possible after the hurricane. All standing water will be thoroughly removed with specialized water extraction equipment and affected drywall, carpeting, furniture, and woodwork will be completely dried and sanitized. Any necessary reconstruction and repair work will be performed in a quick and efficient manner. If mold remediation, content clean-up, document recovery, or any other disaster restoration services are required to fully restore your property, the experienced professionals will take care of them as well. You will be able to rebuild your business and successfully reopen within a couple of weeks after the disaster;
- Retrieve essential documentation and data and migrate business operations to a recovery site until the restoration process is completed.
Natural Disaster Safety – Tornado Shelter Tips – Watch the ServiceMaster Restore Video
If you need hurricane and tornado damage repair services in the Houston, TX area, call ServiceMaster Restoration & Cleaning at (800) 303-5844 immediately after the storm – our experienced technicians will remove flood water, clean and sanitize the affected areas, and perform any necessary repairs and mitigation procedures to return your business to its prime condition.