Hurricane aftermath: Getting back to business

Hurricane Harvey’s path of devastation is wide and ongoing, flooding 50 Texas counties and then returning with vengeance to wreak havoc across Louisiana and other southeast states. Producers, arm your commercial clients with these tips for business recovery after a hurricane. If your agency was in Harvey’s path, you may need this list as well. 

According to FEMA, more than 40 percent of businesses don’t reopen after a disaster. And right now, there’s no "business as usual" in many areas.

As a local agent, you see it first-hand: your clients are deeply stressed. In many cases, they’ve lost homes and vehicles (or at least incurred damages). Their business is severely damaged and shut down for who knows how long. Yet they need to get back up and running as soon as possible. When emotions run high, it can be difficult to think clearly. That’s why they need your help to walk them through their next steps to help them get back to business.

These tips are compiled from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), Polygon Group, Zurich and Forbes. The faster you and your clients can resume some level of normal operations, the quicker you and they can restore income, jobs, and the products and services your community needs. Use these steps to help your agency and your clients reopen as quickly as possible – ideally, ahead of the competition.

 

Safety tips in the immediate aftermath 

Put safety first. Use utmost caution when entering a damaged building. If there is serious structural damage, contact local officials before entering. Report downed power lines or gas leaks. If the building was flooded, keep electricity turned off. Watch for snakes and other creatures that may have found a dry refuge in high spots in the building. If flooding is still present, wear waterproof boots or waders, because flood waters are a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria that you don’t want on your skin. 

Protect property from further damage. Not only does their business need protection from the elements, but clients will also want to protect against looters. This could mean boarding up windows, putting a tarp over holes in the roof, adding extra padlocks to doors and salvaging undamaged items. Explain what temporary repairs and protective measures their insurance will pay for.  

Related: Protecting your home after a hurricane or major storm

Report the loss as soon as possible. Here’s where your services as their agent are invaluable. Give them the claims information they need to get started. Tell them to be ready with a general description of the damage and have their policy number handy if possible. Photos taken with their smart phone are invaluable. Be sure they jot down the adjuster’s name, phone number and work schedule. 

Prepare a list. Again, use smart phones to photograph and/or videotape losses. Keep damaged items or portions of them for the claims adjuster to view. Provide the adjuster with a list of damaged or lost items.

 

Steps for longer-term business recovery after a hurricane 

Assess further damages. Note building damages (windows, doors, roofing, siding, entry areas and signage.) Inspect more closely damage to equipment, inventory, raw materials, etc.; photograph and compile a list for the adjuster.

Inspect the building. If your client owns the building, have it inspected by structural engineers and contractors to determine its safety and the extent of the damage; otherwise, they should work with the building owner to have the building inspected. Remind them: Regardless if they’re the property owner or not, they are responsible for the safety of employees, customers and anyone else on the premises. 

Keep receipts. Keep records and receipts for all additional expenses, including temporary repairs, permanent repairs and any costs for temporarily relocating their business. 

Return claim forms. Fill out and return the forms as soon as possible, with all documentation, receipts, photos and videos requested.  

Clean up. Claims adjusters may instruct your clients to hire a professional cleaning service or disaster recovery service to begin restoration. If damage is minimal and they or their employees are involved in clean up, they should use safety items such as proper eyewear, gloves, hardhats and dust masks/respirators. After salvaging untouched items, separate from the damaged stock. Once cleared by the adjuster (and local authorities, if required), remove debris as soon as possible to remove hiding places for unwanted creatures and prevent mold growth.

Plumbing and sanitation systems should be repaired immediately. If the workspace has a kitchen, inspect oven hoods and other ventilation devices for clogs and to ensure they’re working efficiently. Discard perishable food. If the business is a food service, keep a list of these items as part of inventory. Zurich provides an in-depth guide for worker safety during recovery operations.

Related: Storm season preparation tips for your property owners

Restore utilities. Restoring electricity, water, gas lines, Internet and phone service should happen as soon as possible. Ensure fire sprinkler systems are back up and running as quickly as possible.

Data recovery. Polygon Group suggests removing hard drives and contacting a company specializing in hard and soft disc recovery. Do not turn on computers, they say, if there’s been any chance that they came in contact with water.

Choose contractors carefully. Remind your clients to use their adjuster as a resource; you may also have a list of contractors that you’ve vetted or used in the past. Remind them not to hire someone who shows up on their site, soliciting business. 

 

Take advantage of business interruption coverage after a hurricane

If your client has business interruption insurance, IBHS suggests taking these measures:

  • Prepare a list of steps required for the business to promptly resume operations on a full or even partial basis. 
  • Financial considerations should include payroll and debt needs and obligations. 

To help calculate the amount of business income losses, an adjuster will need: 

  • Historical sales records
  • Income and expense information as shown in recent profit and loss statements and/or income tax forms
  • Other business records that might assist in projecting what your profits would have been had your business not been interrupted. (They may need to look to outside resources for these materials if their paper and computer files were damaged or destroyed.)

 

Related: Does Your Agency Have a Disaster Recovery Plan?

 

Financial aid to help with business recovery after a hurricane

To find out which types of assistance your clients can qualify for, provide them with this link to an online questionnaire.

FEMA provides free legal services to help with any legal issues that may arise, as does National Disaster Legal Aid. Get started here

Low interest loans. Both the Small Business Administration (SBA) and USDA provide low interest loans to business owners to help them rebuild and replace equipment damaged or destroyed by a hurricane.

Tax relief. If the federal government has declared your area a disaster, business owners can apply for federal tax relief in the form of expedited refunds or delayed tax filings.