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Susan Thurston: Heavy rains a good reminder to stock up on hurricane supplies

All this rain lately motivates me to buy more bottled water and flashlight batteries, in the hopes that loading up on emergency supplies will somehow keep away the really big storms, the ones that get their own names.

So I was kind of surprised by a new survey out from Staples, the office supply store, that found only half of small businesses in the South say they are prepared for a hurricane and even fewer (40 percent) say they are ready for flooding. And while natural disasters are their top safety concern, 70 percent of the business owners said recent catastrophes like last year's Superstorm Sandy haven't prompted them to reassess their emergency plans.

In other words, business owners are worried, but they aren't taking precautions.

Granted, it's easy to be lulled into invincibility. Those of us who have been around for a while remember when a chorus line of storms threatened the Tampa Bay area in 2004. Locals boarded up their windows for Charley, then Frances, then Ivan, only to see them shift safely away.

But history shows we can't win forever. The Tampa Bay area hasn't had a direct hurricane hit since 1921. One of these years, we won't get lucky. I liken it to playing roulette. As much as you figure the "0" and "00" won't come in, they always do. Statistically, they have to.

Bob Risk, the aptly named senior strategic safety, health and wellness manager for Staples, said companies, much like individuals, don't want to spend the money on emergency supplies or choose to wait until the last minute, when items can prove difficult to find. Others have a plan for dealing with a disaster but not the products to support it.

"The bottom line is it's always easier to prepare for any emergency than to explain why you didn't,'' he said.

Being prepared doesn't have to cost a lot, Risk said. Spending $5 to $10 per employee on basic supplies can make a big difference during a crisis. Some bottled water has a shelf life of five years. Things like radios and crank-powered cellphone chargers are always good to have.

Publix and Home Depot have decent websites for figuring out what you might need during a storm and after. Go to publix.com/storm or homedepot.com/weathercenter. Staples can work with businesses to buy products or can put together kits for entire offices.

If rain doesn't fizzle Fourth of July festivities, holiday spending should be up substantially, based on an annual survey by Visa.

The survey found Americans plan to spend $300 per adult on fireworks, patriotic T-shirts, picnics and anything else devoted to the red, white and blue, including taking a trip. That's a 58 percent increase over last year's $190.

Reasons range from an improving economy to Independence Day falling on a Thursday, the start of many four-day weekends. Last year, July 4 was on a Wednesday, the worst for fireworks vendors because a lot of people had to work the next day.

The survey also found that only 12 percent of people aren't planning to spend a dime on the holiday. Last year, it was more than one in five. Nat Sillin of Visa says that's proof that people are feeling more financially confident and willing to spend.

Loosely translated: Be prepared to hear a lot of fireworks.

Up for more than one night of oohs and aahs? Wesley Chapel's Shops at Wiregrass is having Freedom Festival on Wednesday with fireworks at 9 p.m. The party starts at 5 with a bicycle decorating contest, watermelon eating contest and a Little Miss and Mr. Firecracker Pageant, which should be adorable.

The other area mall hosting fireworks is Westfield Brandon. The annual Brandon Blast starts at 5 p.m. Thursday in the courtyard area in front of the Cheesecake Factory and Bahama Breeze with live music, a kids' zone and fireworks at 9. New this year are free activities by area nonprofit groups.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Susan Thurston: Heavy rains a good reminder to stock up on hurricane supplies 07/01/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 1, 2013 8:43pm]

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