Storm-schooled: Local businesses share lessons learned from disasters
Tim Harris, a Peninsula grocer who sells gourmet foods from Spain, didn’t fret when Hurricane Irene zapped power at La Tienda’s warehouse in Toano. A diesel generator kept refrigerators humming and the jamón serrano chilled.
Harris kept his cool, too – that is, until the gas ran out. Meanwhile, the diesel vendor was stuck in Gloucester, which is across the York River and a good 45 minutes from Toano, accessible only by driving south to the Coleman Bridge or north through West Point.
“We ended up in a massive scramble to get fuel,” Harris said of the August 2011 storm. It’s not uncommon for small business owners to overlook such details when preparing for disasters. Harris and other storm survivors in Hampton Roads recently shared their tips for battening down the hatches:
Keep your friends close but your vendors closer. Make sure emergency contractors – fuel providers, cleaning crews, data-recovery folks, for example – are easily accessible, geographically and otherwise. Harris learned this lesson the hard way.
“Having a fuel provider across the water didn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “So now we’re working with one that’s close by.”
Establish a rapport with those vendors. Get to know them personally and build a tight bond. That way, when disaster strikes, you’ll have a friend, not just a formal business arrangement, on your side.
Don’t skimp on insurance. Meade Amory, a Hampton seafood wholesaler, is glad he didn’t. On June 1, a tornado ripped the roof from L.D. Amory & Co.’s packing facility. The business, founded by his great-grandfather in 1917, rebuilt quickly – in about 30 days – thanks to solid insurance coverage and longstanding connections with local contractors.
“Make sure you have a very good insurance company that’s triple- A rated,” Amory said. “You don’t want to cut corners on insurance. It’s not worth it.”
An insurance broker, preferably one that specializes in your industry, can find you the best deal with a reputable company. Amory’s broker is London & Norfolk, which represents many maritime clients.
“If you’re running a business, you don’t have time to do it yourself,” Amory said. “Get someone who’s experienced with insurance to help you.”
Help employees with their personal disaster plans. This boosts morale and enhances your company’s own emergency preparedness.
To that end, Jo-Kell Inc. CEO Suzy Kelly hung a map of Hampton Roads in the hallway of her company’s Chesapeake headquarters. She dotted it with five-dozen pushpins to indicate the home addresses of all 60 employees at the electrical distribution firm.
“People can readily see who lives near them, so they can arrange carpooling and other assistance in the event of an emergency,”
Kelly said. The company reimburses employees up to $100 each for personal supplies and food purchased for hunkering down during hurricane season.
Jo-Kell also offers to scan important documents – birth certificates, insurance policies, Social Security cards – onto a flash drive for employees.
Kelly, who created a disaster preparedness guide for staff, began her efforts in earnest after viewing TV coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Not only am I responsible for my family, but I need to watch out for my employees, too,” she said.
Network with neighbors. Reach out to that beauty salon next door or the accountant down the street. Neighboring business owners can be great allies in your disaster preparation. Include them in your planning so you can help each other weather the storm.
“What I’ve tried to do,” Harris said, “is communicate to smaller restaurants that if they’d like to bring products over to our coolers, we’re happy to let them park a pallet of whatever they’ve got – you know, deli meats and cheeses and stuff like that.”
In a sense, he’s just paying it forward from a previous storm.
“When we were a bit smaller, we didn’t have a diesel generator – and this was during Hurricane Isabel,” he said. “A couple of local restaurants allowed us to store our products in their walk-in coolers until we got our power back. It really saved us.”
Have a backup for your backup. Consider using two separate spots to house your data and technology. La Tienda has done this for the last five years, investing in co-location services where the company owns machines that are stored at on offsite center.
“We don’t host our website in our office,” Harris said. “We use a hosting center in Richmond that has a massive diesel generator backup. And then we actually take it a step further and replicate our databases down to Atlanta. So if Richmond were to get hit really badly, we can switch all of our web traffic to another hosting center in Atlanta.
“To the extent that you can replicate data to a number of different hosting centers, then the more protected you are.”