Filed Under:Markets, Commercial Lines

5 tips to get your business up and running after a natural disaster

A wrecked awning from a store in the business district in Charleston, S.C., is seen on Oct. 8, 2016, after Hurricane Matthew passed through. (Photo: AP/Bruce Smith)
A wrecked awning from a store in the business district in Charleston, S.C., is seen on Oct. 8, 2016, after Hurricane Matthew passed through. (Photo: AP/Bruce Smith)

Every year tens of thousands of businesses are affected by natural disasters, and this year was no exception.

Although the insurance industry expects the fallout to be much less than initially thought, it’s estimated that more than one million structures have been either damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, and tens of thousands of employees are temporarily out of work.

In fact, Goldman Sachs estimates this storm probably caused $10 billion in damage, placing it as the 22nd worst storm since World War II. And for residents of North Carolina, facing continued flooding the disaster isn’t over yet.

If your business was impacted by Hurricane Matthew, you are probably asking yourself: “What do I do next?” Here are some of the things you can do when evaluating the damage and getting operations back on track: 

Related: Hurricane Nicole weakens after striking Bermuda

Employee taking photos damaged business Hurricane Matthew

An employee of Cross Creek Body Shop takes photos of damage due to floodwaters caused by rain from Hurricane Matthew in Fayetteville, N.C., Oct. 9, 2016. (Photo: AP/Chuck Burton)

1. Walk through the premises

  • Exercise caution while entering the premises for any hazards, including downed electrical wires.
  • Enforce "No Smoking" rules and curtail the use of heat- or spark-producing equipment until you’re sure there are no flammable liquid or gas releases.
  • Use caution before turning on electricity where equipment may be damaged or wet.
  • Use caution in opening fuel control valves. Check to ensure that piping and equipment is intact, properly supported and not leaking.
  • Make temporary repairs to the structure and property to prevent further damage.
  • Cover machinery, equipment or materials that may be exposed to the elements.
  • Check fire protection equipment, such as fire pumps, alarm systems and automatic fire suppression, to ensure it’s working correctly.
  • Take photographs and video of damages, and maintain an itemized listing of materials and labor used to repair the property and restore operations.
  • Separate undamaged stock from damaged stock.

Related: Major flooding continues in wake of Hurricane Matthew [photos]

3 men taking pictures flooded street Hurricane Matthew

2. Start the recovery process

The following recovery and restoration checklist outlines the tasks necessary and the persons responsible to get operations back to their new “normal.”

  • Notify employee families about the status of personnel on premises.
  • Notify and meet with your insurance carrier to discuss claim and restoration plans.
  • Request an advance payment from your carrier if needed to resume operations.
  • Contact federal, state and local government agencies for assistance (for example, permits, inspections, certification of occupancy, and debris removal, transport and disposal.) Inform these agencies of major restoration plans.
  • Activate pre-loss agreements such as those with restoration companies. 
  • Obtain repair estimates from reputable building contractors.
  • Contact vendors for records preservation, equipment repair, earthmoving or engineering.
  • Determine outsourcing needs, if any.

Related: 6 tips for flood survivors on avoiding fraud and other scams

Men cleaning office after flood

Shawn Stephenson, left, and Marshall Dimick clear water from a real estate office that was flooded by Hurricane Hermine Sept. 2, 2016, in Cedar Key, Fla. (Photo: AP/John Raoux)

3. Deal with the damage

  • Take inventory of damaged goods. This can be done with the insurance adjuster, and those photos and video you took will come in handy. Purchasing and sales records may assist in identifying what stock or materials were on hand.
  • Assess the value of damaged property.
  • Assess the impact of business interruption.
  • Contact your suppliers and key customers to determine the extent of their damages, so that you can determine the impact to your operations and whether you might have a potential contingent business interruption claim.
  • Keep damaged goods on hand for the insurance adjuster, but protected from further damage in the event the carrier wishes to salvage any property.
  • If you release goods to the adjuster or salvage, obtain a signed inventory, with pictures, detailing the type of goods and quantity.
  • Establish special job and charge codes for purchases and repairs.
  • Track the hours spent by your employees who are engaged in loss mitigation as opposed to normal business activities.
  • Document all expenses directly related to the storm, secure invoices and track any expenses related to the preparation of your claim.

Related: After a hurricane strikes

Police officer with evacuation no trespassing sign flooded street

Lt. Mike Broadwell of the Greenville Police Department installs a No Trespassing sign near a neighborhood flooded by water associated with Hurricane Matthew, Oct. 12, 2016, in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

4. Resume operations carefully

  • Determine the need for an alternate facility, if necessary, and arrange to move your equipment.
  • Coordinate power restoration with utility companies. Don’t energize on your own, or you could cause damage and injury.
  • Restore sprinkler systems and other fire protection equipment.
  • Restore equipment and property for critical operations.
  • Move backup power and equipment into place. This includes backup communication systems.
  • Ensure personnel safety and security through ongoing communication and employee briefings.
  • Provide employees with material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to keep them award of potentially hazardous materials.
  • Maintain transparency by ongoing contact with customers and suppliers.

Related: Leasing temporary space after a casualty

Recovery workers Manhattan Super Storm Sandy

Recovery workers clean up a subterranean garage in New York's Financial District, Nov. 12, 2012. (Photo: AP/Richard Drew)

5. Emphasize safety

In addition to protecting your business, it’s important to reinforce life safety for employees, tenants, residents and visitors. Following a disaster, buildings must be confirmed safe for occupancy before any employees, residents, tenants or visitors can reenter. The following are some key considerations, although there may be others as well:

  • Provide regular, written communication identifying existing hazards and controls necessary to keep people safe.
  • Provide notification and warnings like signage, caution tape, cones, and wet floor signs in areas where hazards exist but access is necessary. As appropriate, provide security to control and monitor access.
  • Control access to areas with existing or potential hazards making the area(s) unsafe. Identify, contain and control leaks or spills of hazardous materials. Control exposure to broken glass, downed power lines, exposed wiring, falling tree limbs, damaged façade or exposed nails, among other things.
  • Maintain proper access and egress from sites and buildings, and establish safe pathways, roadways and parking areas. Provide proper illumination in work zones, pathways and occupied areas.
  • Maintain proper housekeeping during restoration and recovery. Clean all hard surfaces such as concrete flooring, wood and metal furniture with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.
  • If damage is water-related, turn off the power at the main breaker. Don’t turn the power on or off or using electric tools while standing in water.
  • Place generators and associated fuel storage outside buildings.
  • Contract with experienced, reputable and insured contractors to complete work beyond your company’s areas of expertise.

Related: 5 things to do to keep employees safe while cleaning up after a hurricane

Robert Meyers is senior vice president, property-casualty leader, USI Insurance Services. You can reach Rob at Robert.Meyers@usi.com or at 914-749-8529.

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