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Hurricane 2021: How to get your business ready for the storm | Column

Your business is as important as your home. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has some advice before the storm hits.
Todd Lynas, produce manager, left, and Marc Sheppard, store manager, work in the rain to install aluminum hurricane shutters on the front windows of the Winn-Dixie store at 3327 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg in November 2020. For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check tampabay.com/hurricane
Todd Lynas, produce manager, left, and Marc Sheppard, store manager, work in the rain to install aluminum hurricane shutters on the front windows of the Winn-Dixie store at 3327 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg in November 2020. For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check tampabay.com/hurricane [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 27

Here’s a sobering statistic for Tampa Bay area businesses: If a Category 5 hurricane made a direct hit on our region, it’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of the area’s small businesses would permanently close.

This estimate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency reflects how such a storm would damage or destroy much of the infrastructure needed for small companies to survive, from roads to power sources to technology.

Brian Ellis is disaster recovery coordinator for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
Brian Ellis is disaster recovery coordinator for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. [ Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council ]

As part of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s Project Phoenix 2.0, the Planning Council works with area municipalities and business groups to train businesspeople on how to prepare for the worst. With that in mind, here are eight tips for businesses as we prepare for the 2021 storm season:

Create an emergency communication plan

Establish points of contact so employees can get answers as the situation evolves, and have everyone’s email addresses and cell phone numbers set up so the company can send out blast emails and texts. Also, consider how to communicate best with employees with disabilities, or with employees who have limited proficiency in English.

Know how the company will evacuate if needed

The overall emergency plan should include plans for evacuating both employees and essential equipment if necessary, with suggested routes for leaving the area.

Make sure your company’s supply chain can withstand a disaster

Focus your planning on the key products and services your company would need immediately before and after a disaster. Identify potential points of failure within the chain, and secure secondary suppliers as backups if needed.

Consider “buddying up” with another business to be ready

Having a similar business as a “buddy” can pay off in difficult situations, whether it’s by borrowing staffers, exchanging information, or sharing inventory. Working with area companies on disaster preparedness, we have seen a number of businesses take this approach with impactful results.

Have a “nest egg” ready in case your business needs short-term cash

Getting insurance claims paid may take time, and there may be damage that isn’t covered by insurance. Small business owners should work with their CPAs and bankers to plan for a disaster fund that can be used if needed.

Have a backup location in mind if you can

Certainly, this won’t be possible for some types of businesses, like restaurants or retailers. But for many companies, having a potential backup space identified with strong internet and other key amenities for employees can be a key to keeping things going well after a disaster while keeping up camaraderie.

Make sure your business insurance is up to date

Does your insurance policy have current details about your company’s assets? Do you have up-to-date contact information for your insurer, so you can reach someone quickly if needed? And does your policy accurately reflect your operations, with the best coverage in place for covering loss of business?

Keep all your key business documents in a safe place

Have online backups, and keep paper versions of your important corporate documents in a safe place that wouldn’t be impacted if a storm hits.

The time to think about getting ready is now. In some cases, this may require a change in mindset, since many small business owners are so busy worrying about immediate challenges that it can be hard to think of longer-term possibilities. But thinking about this will be worth it if a storm hits.

If a storm hits and your business suffers damage, your business can survive if you move quickly and leverage your relationships, whether that’s with your suppliers, customers, insurance agent, or banker.

“You’re going to be exposed to considerable damage or loss,” said Al Cathey of Cathey’s Hardware & Tackle in Mexico Beach, which rebuilt its structure after major damage in 2018′s Hurricane Michael. “Don’t let that entrepreneurial spirit be a casualty of the hurricane.”

To help businesses in the Tampa Bay area prepare, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council offers “train the trainer” courses through Project Phoenix 2.0, working through governments and business groups. For more information about those sessions, visit the Project Phoenix 2.0 web page at www.tbrpc.org/phoenix/.

Brian Ellis is disaster recovery coordinator for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

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2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter