Last year, the Category 5 Hurricane Michael caused $18.4 billion in estimated losses in Florida and severe devastation for thousands of small businesses.
Listen to Panhandle business owner Ben Kaempfer, general manager of Cottondale-based Register’s Meat Company: “We lost $35,000 worth of inventory because we weren’t able to refrigerate it. Our employees lost everything. We also lost 10 grocery stores permanently that carried our product.”
Here in South Florida, the wrath of 2017’s Hurricane Irma is still being felt in the Florida Keys, where, sadly, some businesses never reopened and others are still being impacted by tourism declines and severe worker shortages due to people leaving the Keys after Irma.
In Miami-Dade, numerous small businesses suffered property damage due to flooding, wind and power outages stemming from Irma.
Stephanie Vitori, owner of Cheeseburger Baby in Miami Beach, was one of them. She is the owner of a successful eatery that counts Beyoncé and Dwayne Wade among its many fans.
For Vitori, the wrath of Irma was huge. The storm destroyed Cheeseburger Baby’s marquee sign, air conditioning units, freezers, cooking equipment, and damaged the roof of a food truck. The economic hit: about $150,000.
“Florida has experienced three particularly devastating hurricane seasons,” said Michael W. Myhre, CEO of the Florida SBDC Network. “All businesses should take time now to understand the risks associated with hurricanes and to develop a preparedness plan.”
IS YOUR SMALL BUSINESS PREPARED?
We are well into hurricane season, and the active months of September and October are still ahead (Note: last year’s deadly Hurricane Michael pounded the state in October). Businesses need to be taking basic disaster preparedness steps now. Don’t wait for an imminent threat – those swirl images and menacing cones and track predictions appearing on all the news stations. That is when key steps are missed due to lack of time, resources, or planning.
To be sure, a large-scale disaster is just one of life’s unplanned business interruptions that could set back or even kill your business, said Brian Van Hook, associate director of Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business.
[UPDATE: Register now for SBDC at FIU’s free “Building a Resilient Business” Webinar on September 26. Learn valuable info to protect your business from interruptions and disasters. RSVP here: ] go.fiu.edu/prepare
“Here in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, a business is more likely to be impacted by road construction, power outages, flooding, or other business interruptions,” Van Hook said. “As small businesses have less cash flow and put less time into disaster preparedness, a business interruption can impact their daily operations and jeopardize the future of the entire business.”
Florida SBDC at FIU helps business owners to develop a comprehensive business continuity plan. “But for most businesses we meet with, a good start is conducting a risk assessment, developing some table top exercises, and coming up with company-specific checklists they can follow pre-and-post-disaster,” Van Hook said.
So let’s get started. Here are some of Van Hook’s key questions to ask yourself:
- Did you do a risk assessment on what risks are more likely to threaten your business?
- When is the last time you did a visual inspection of the business?
- Have you done table top exercises to test your response to those specific risks?
- Are there basic steps you can take today to better prepare your business against future disasters?
START WITH THE BIZASTER APP
FIU’s Bizaster app is a free tool specifically created for small businesses. It is available in English and Spanish for both Android and iOS. Find out more information about it here.
With the Bizaster app, you can do a risk assessment from the convenience of your mobile device or tablet. You can access checklists, table top exercises and a template for a business continuity plan, Van Hook said.
Miami-Dade and Monroe also offer these resources:
The Ready Miami-Dade (Ready MDC on Apple and Android) mobile application allows Miami-Dade residents and visitors to get up-to-the minute information before, during and after a hurricane strike, including: 1) How to prepare for a hurricane; 2) Areas that are in danger of storm surge; and 3) Evacuation center locations.
Alert!Monroe, an Emergency Notification System from Monroe County, provide you with critical information quickly in a variety of situations, such as severe weather, emergency road closures, boil water notices, water service interruption, missing persons and evacuations of neighborhoods.
YES, BUT I’M INSURED
It’s important to remember that Insurance is only a partial solution. “Insurance cannot replace lost customers nor can it cover all losses,” Van Hook says.
He suggests talking with fellow business owners about their disaster experiences. Are their losses included/excluded under your policy?
Additional questions to ask your insurance agent include:
- If my policy is a “named perils” policy, what perils are covered? Are there any possible causes of loss that could impact my business that are not covered? Would an open perils policy cover those types of losses?
- What types of losses are excluded under this policy? Which ones might be particularly relevant to my business?
- Would a blanket policy (for multiple locations) be helpful to me?
- Are there any premium discounts that I could be eligible for? Can I do anything else to get [additional] premium discounts?
- Is there any exposure that you are aware of for which I do not have insurance?
WHERE DO WE START?
“As part of hurricane preparedness, small business owners should find a balance between their personal and business disaster preparations,” Van Hook said. “Talk with your family and remember that it will be difficult to get back to work if you are worried about your home, childcare, relatives, or pets.”
Discuss disaster plans with your team. Help them with personal disaster plans. Set deadlines when key items need to be completed by, he added.
In addition to downloading the Bizaster app and doing your own risk assessment, here are some suggested key items you can do right now, according to Van Hook:
- Update employee contact information. Make sure that includes emergency contacts and alternate means of communication, such as What’s App for example.
- Identify any special skills, certifications, etc. that your team members possess that might come in handy in an emergency (i.e. first aid, CPR, or military training).
- Ask your team about their plans relative to evacuating vs. shelter-in-place. Also have them identify any childcare needs or if they have other concerns such as pets or elderly relatives.
WANT MORE? SOME ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Miami-Dade County’s latest hurricane guide is here.
For a list of preparedness resources, including tips for assembling a Business Ready “Records-To-Go” Box, click here.
www.FloridaDisaster.org is the state’s official source of general and specific information for individuals and businesses. It’s from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
For a hurricane preparedness checklist and other resources from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), click here.
AFTER THE STORM
In the event of a disaster, Florida SBDC disaster specialists across the state help affected businesses prepare disaster loan applications. The network will also deploy its mobile assistance centers into communities for affected businesses to receive on-site assistance with disaster loans and other post-disaster challenges.
“We help the state administer the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan but we do so much more. We coordinate offices and partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is our federal agency partner. After Hurricane Michael, we set up business recovery centers,” said Myhre of the Florida SBDC Network, in an interview during the Small Business Leadership Conference in Orlando.
“We believe we can help our businesses get reopened and get people back to work quickly. But it is even better if we can help businesses before the storm. We help small businesses build business resiliency plans. You can’t plan for every situation, but you know what, I have seen businesses turn disasters into competitive advantages as well.”
WHERE TO FIND HELP
Should a hurricane hit South Florida, multiple channels provide emergency response and recovery information. These include Florida SBDC at FIU , Miami-Dade County, Monroe County, individual municipalities, and the State of Florida.
A small business will be able to check the SBA website to see if SBA Disaster Loan assistance is available. That website is here.
The business also can check the State of Florida’s Emergency Bridge Loan website to see if those bridge loans are available. That website is here.
Following Hurricane Michael, the Florida SBDC Network partnered with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Florida First Capital Finance Corporation to administer the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program. The Florida SBDC Network closed 492 Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loans totaling $21.6 million.
HOW DID OUR BUSINESSES DO?
For business owners like Kaempfer in the Panhandle, the short-term, interest-free loan served as a lifeline to recover following severe physical and economic injury from the storm.
“The bridge loan was such a timely process – we were actually surprised at how quickly we applied, got the funds, and also about the terms of the loan. It’s hard to describe how helpful the program was and how much of a relief it was to secure it because my family, my dad’s family, and our employees and their families depend on our business,” Kaempfer said.
After Hurricane Irma, Vitori, of Cheeseburger Baby, lost power for two weeks but used a generator from one of the food trucks to power the restaurant and begin the recovery process – which included feeding local officials and volunteers helping with the post-hurricane clean-up. Vitori received an SBA disaster loan for $197,000 to cover working capital needs and repair costs. The SBDC at FIU helped Cheeseburger Baby, one of 187 businesses that the center worked with following Hurricane Irma, secure the additional funding to help her make repairs, return to pre-storm staffing levels, and ramp back up her catering operations – as well as assist the company with a business continuity plan.
The SBA recently recognized Cheeseburger Baby with the 2019 Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery, a national award given for the company’s successful hurricane recovery efforts and was presented in Washington, D.C.
“If it wasn’t for the SBDC and the SBA, I wouldn’t be here, Cheeseburger Baby wouldn’t be here,” said Vitori, in a video interview. “The SBA and the SBDC were my first responders. … They were able to help me every step of the way.”