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Weathering the Storm - A Business Owner's Guide to the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Weathering the Storm - A Business Owner's Guide to the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
Photo by Wade Austin Ellis / Unsplash

*Ahh* Summer is finally upon us! Summer presents an incredible time for us as entrepreneurs to reflect on what we've accomplished this year and to adjust our strategy to meet our year-end goals.

However! For those of us with the good fortune of living in the Southeast, the passing of June 1st means the arrival of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

As entrepreneurs committed to caring for our communities and planet, we know that Hurricane Season can be stressful - but we got you with our Guide to the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

I. Hurricanes: A Climate Change Perspective

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency responsible for monitoring weather patterns forecasts a 70% probability of a normal-to-near hurricane season. The agency predicts approximately 5-9 named storms and 1-4 major hurricanes in 2023. Furthermore, NOAA's Science Council projects that global warming is causing hurricanes and tropical storms to intensify.

It goes without saying that this is a serious issue, as Hurricane Ian in 2022 caused a collective 50 billion in insured damages.

Sustainability principles have been proven to be an effective resilience strategy for business owners.

II. Risk Assessment: Incorporating Sustainability in Business Practice

Your business exists because you manifested and materialized your vision into the world. It's time to take that vision and use it to see where potential vulnerabilities may lay for your business.

Let's think about the risks along the following categories:

Physical/Infrastructure Risk:

Suppose your business has a storefront, office, or warehouse. In that case, you must carefully consider what risks a hurricane might pose to your business. What might hurricane-force winds do to your equipment? Will your building be safely accessible in the event of heavy rainfall?

Map out all of the critical aspects of your business that run through your storefront. Consider how you might circumvent challenges I​n the event of a hurricane.

Ex: Consider that you're a coffee and wine bar owner. Cleary the integrity and access to your storefront is mission-critical. Consider boarding up windows to combat hurricane-force winds and sandbags to buffet against floodwaters. Additionally, you'd want to ensure that your inventory is managed correctly. Consider moving critical equipment and dry goods to higher ground or safe storage amid a storm. For perishable items, consider using them before the storm to prevent waste or to ensure that you have an alternative sight to ensure their freshness and quality.

Operational Risk:

What are all the many aspects of your business that might be disrupted in a storm? While related to a physical location, this is a separate and distinct risk. How are your products, goods, or services delivered to your customers? How might the inclement weather negatively impact this?

Map out all the critical moving pieces that allow your business to run effectively and efficiently. Consider strategies to manage this risk.

Ex: Consider that you're a florist with a thriving delivery service. Two critical operational needs of your business are likely reliable electricity and passable roads. Suppose your facility does not have reliable electricity. In that case, it will be nearly impossible to provide a climate-controlled atmosphere to ensure the thriving of your plants and flowers. Also, running your point-of-sale software to manage inventory and complete sales from customers without this electricity would be challenging. Secondly, your delivery drivers need safe, passable roads to satisfy your customers. In this scenario, consider if there are alternative locations to sustain your plants and flowers. Additionally, think if there is a possibility of delivering customer orders earlier before the storm. If this is not possible, consider how to communicate disruption to service calmly and effectively to your customer base.

Workforce Risk:

Your staff and employees are hands down the lifeblood of your business and your most valuable asset. During times of natural disaster, it is a non-negotiable policy for a sustainability-focused and ethical business leader to ensure that their folks are taken care of.

You and your employees may be apprehensive about the impending storm during this time. While it is not your responsibility as a business owner to function as a therapist or mental health provider for your team, it IS your responsibility to provide them with clarity on how to navigate the challenges and uncertainty that comes with challenging situations such as this.

How will your team get to work? Can their tasks be executed at a sufficient level remotely? How is your team mentally? People respond differently to times of natural disasters. Is your team even mentally ready to show up and give their best?

Ex: You're a digital marketing agency distinguished by the firm's commitment to excellent content expertise and its ability to build trusting relationships through face-to-face interactions, educating clients in digital marketing. Challenges that might exist here are the access that your team will have to access equipment such as laptops, computer monitors, electricity, and internet. While much of this work can be accomplished remotely, a significant percentage of your team is struggling due to the trauma experienced by past storms. This is also impacting their ability to effectively engage with clients. How can you shift timelines of deliverables to give space for the team to be present and deliver the stellar quality service they are known for?

Customer Risk:

Your customers are also a critical constituency in managing your business. Your business is designed around providing them with the products and services that add value to their lives.

How might your customers be impacted by a natural disaster? Are your services mission-critical to the functioning of their business? During and in the aftermath of a storm, are they more or less likely to require your products or services? How might you be proactive in letting your customers know that they are front of mind when you are doing your disaster preparedness?

Ex: Consider that you are a roofing contractor business. While it is unlikely that weather conditions will be safe enough for you and your team to complete construction, there may be other ways to support your customers. You could be providing them with tips to prepare their home for the incoming damage that may come from the storm or proactively letting them know about resources provided by FEMA, such as those infamous blue tarps. Given the destruction of hurricane winds or heavy rain, this business will likely see an immediate uptick in customer demand after the hurricane. This business can proactively meet customer needs by staffing up its workforce given the impending storm and partnering with subcontractors to deliver expedient roofing services.

III. Preparation: Building a Resilient, Sustainable Business

Sustainability will be one of if not the most defining challenges faced by all of us, especially among business owners. While it is imperative for businesses to prioritize sustainability for its benefits regarding environmental justice and addressing the climate crises, it also provides business owners with increased resilience during climate disasters such as hurricanes.

Here are a few sustainability ideas to incorporate into your business that is great for the environment and planet and ensure business continuity and resilience.

Installing Native Plants

Incorporating native plants, or plants indigenous to a region, are adept at absorbing water from heavy rains. This is a tremendous good not only for your business but your neighborhood as well. The more water collected by native plants means LESS water being poured unto streets resulting in less street flooding and stress of stormwater drainage.

Ex: Examples can be found in many businesses and homes in New Orleans, where this strategy gives significant amounts of water from inundating the city's antiquated drainage infrastructure.

Onsite Solar Plus Storage

One of the more painful parts of dealing with natural disasters is the long wait times to restore electricity. 2021's Hurricane Ida resulted in residents and businesses losing 1.33 billion outage hours in productive hours.

Ex: Communities in Chelsea, MA, and New Orleans, LA, are combating such challenges by installing onsite community solar and storage to ensure that they have access to clean energy during good weather and blue sky days and that the storage provides enough energy to use during the times of power outages,

IV. Insurance: Ensuring Protection for a Sustainable Future

As entrepreneurs and business owners, we have tremendous agency in ensuring our businesses' and stakeholders' preparedness in times of disaster. However, a part of maturing as an entrepreneur is recognizing that you cannot control everything. We have insurance policies to prepare for what is out of our hands. While it is tempting to skimp on insurance policies given the high premiums, ensuring you have the proper coverage to protect the great business you've built is critical.

Here are four types of insurance that you should absolutely look into and contemplate purchasing policies for:

1. Property Insurance: Property insurance covers buildings and personal property for damage that might occur during a disaster. While this is an important policy, it is generally valuable to explore this for hurricanes. However, verifying whether your specified policy will cover you during disasters due to storms is essential.

2. Flood Insurance: As most property insurance policies do not cover flood damage, it is critical to explore flood insurance policies. Business owners in hurricane-prone regions should consider exploring approaches from the National Flood Insurance Program or shopping around with private insurers

3. Windstorm or Wind Insurance: Some property insurance policies might cover damage to the business due to hurricane winds, but many do not. It is critical to explore approaches that will insure you against this risk.

4. Business Interruption Insurance: Remember during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when s$%t hit the fan, and you didn't know how your business would survive? We absolutely want to avoid this situation in the future. This is the beauty of business interruption service. When your business cannot operate or incur additional expenses during disasters, business interruption insurance allows you to make it through that challenging period and accelerates your ability to bounce back.

V. Communications: Building a Solidarity Network

We've covered a lot of information! You may feel overwhelmed and like you need to get to work ASAP to ensure you have all your ducks in a row. Remember that you do not need to go on this road alone. Consider how you might build solidarity networks and relationships based on mutuality between other business owners, your neighbors, your team, and your customers.

Communicate your plans to all of these groups early and often. Show up for them in their time of need, and they'll be happy to do the same for you. At the end of the day, we need each other.

VI. Recovery: Building a More Resilient Future

A lot is happening in the aftermath of a storm and likely will be running through your head. You have to tend to family and friends, your business, your customers, your team, and so on. It's a stressful time, but remember that recovery provides the opportunity for renewal and potentially rebuilding a more sustainable, resilient reality.

Of course, there will be a litany of resources and programs to take advantage of. Here are a few to put on your radar post-disaster.

1. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency): Provides disaster assistance, which can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of a disaster.

2. SBA (Small Business Administration): Offers disaster loans for businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners, and renters to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, inventory, and business assets. The SBA's EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) was a popular program during the height of the pandemic.

3. Department of Labor's Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program: Provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted due to a significant disaster. This is an especially crucial consideration for your employees if you're no longer able to keep them on payroll or if you're a sole proprietor,

4. State and Local Economic Development Agencies: These agencies are often able to create specialized grant programs to support businesses in the aftermath of storms and also able to serve as a critical resource in navigating the complexities of applying to and taking advantage of the myriad of available programs.

5. Regional Banks and Community Development Financial Institutions: These institutions are more likely given policies such as the Community Reinvestment Act or any nature of their mission to provide business owners with favorable terms on loans and potentially with grants and financial planning assistance.

VI. Conclusion

*Inhale* *Exhale*

Natural disasters such as hurricanes are a challenge for small business owners. But remember how far you've come and the tenacity you've shown to this point. We have no doubt that with the proper planning, support of the community, and commitment to sustainability, you're prepared to meet the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season head-on.

VII. Resources for Sustainable Hurricane Preparation

Below is a curated list of additional resources to prepare for this coming hurricane season.