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Treat Winter Weather Just Like Any Other Disaster

Disaster Feature

by Ashley Bates/staff writer

Many concerns crop up when grocery retailers are in a frenzy to prepare before a storm heading their way. There are steps grocery stores—large and small—can take to better prepare their business when a disaster is predicted. Rhett Asher, the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) VP of industry relations, works daily to ensure food retailers are better equipped to handle crises, be they related to weather, the economy or technology. Asher said that in the past 10 years retailers, along with local, state and government officials, have made great strides to be more prepared when disaster strikes.

Since “Katrina and 9/11, businesses realize now that these type of incidents can happen at any time, and our retailers continuously throughout the year go through risk assessments as they relate to the various types of incidents that can happen in their region or area,” Asher said. “They are constantly building relationships with their local, state and federal partners and are constantly going over their checklist and re-evaluating. Anything can happen at any time and you have to be continuously prepared.”

In a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called “Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry,” the agency suggests to first name an individual or group in charge of developing the disaster plan, along with implementation if an emergency occurs.

Another suggestion is to meet with local officials, government agencies, community organizations and utilities to make a sound plan.

[gn_box title=”Disaster Preparedness Tips for Businesses of All Sizes” color=”#999900″] [arrow_list]
  • Start the disaster plan by identifying what your operation needs to do to protect itself in the face of a natural disaster. Even if you don’t own the building where you do business, take steps to protect your assets.
  • Determine what production machinery, computers and other essential equipment is needed to keep your ­business open. Store extra supplies off-site, and make a plan for a temporary location if your company is forced to relocate after the disaster. Be ready for utility disruptions with a portable generator.
  • Find escape routes from the business and establish meeting places. Make sure everyone understands the emergency plan before the storm hits. Designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, ­customers and vendors.
  • Review your insurance coverage to make sure you understand what is not covered. Most policies don’t cover flood damage.
  • The National Flood Insurance Program provides coverage to property owners. Go to the NFIP Web site at www.floodsmart.gov.
  • Consider business interruption insurance. It covers operating expenses, like utilities, and compensates you for the income lost after a temporary closure.
  • Make backup copies of all tax, accounting, payroll and production records and customer data on computer hard drives, and store the records at an offsite location at least 100 miles away. Important documents should be saved in fireproof safe deposit boxes.
  • To protect your property from wind damage, install impact-resistant windows and door systems, or plywood shutters. Hire a professional to evaluate your roof to make sure it can weather a major storm.
  • Develop a post-disaster communications strategy. Keep current phone numbers for your suppliers, employees, customers, utility companies, local media and emergency agencies. Appoint a spokesperson to get the word out that your company is still open and on the road to recovery, to dispel rumors of business failure.[/arrow_list]

Source: Small Business Administration [/gn_box]

Asher spent time in Louisiana before and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I was involved in the whole preparation for that disaster, the response during and then the recovery afterward,” he said. “I guess what we have learned is that there was a lack of interaction and communication which affected the communication between our industry, the retailers and the various government agencies. So everyone from your local to your state to your federal agencies during Katrina was a huge wakeup call for, in my opinion, both sides of the line there.”

As winter weather is a daily possibility at this time of year, Asher did say that preparation is the same as that for a tornado or approaching hurricane.

“A winter weather storm is no different than a hurricane or a flood or anything else. For the most part, you know when a winter storm is coming, we get some sort of minimal heads up and retailers have a business continuity or crisis management plan that pretty much will fit almost every disaster.

“From a winter standpoint, obviously, (retailers) have very good relationships with snow removal companies and whatever third-party contractors they are going to need to move the snow. They still need to make sure that they have their data backed up that is not in that localized area; they still are going to go and follow checklists that take them through various assessments. Check the roof, make sure when you get close to the winter that there is no physical damage that you can see by the eye, make sure that all your windows and doors are sealed, make sure that you have contact lists for your employees, contact lists for your agencies that you may need help from, especially local and state.”

[gn_note color=”#99ccff”]

Disaster Assistance Available For Businesses of All Sizes

If your business or private, nonprofit organization has suffered physical damage or sustained economic injury after a disaster, you may be eligible for ­financial assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

If your business—regardless of size—is located in a declared disaster area, you may apply for a long-term, low-interest loan of up to $2 million to repair or ­replace damaged real estate, equipment, inventory and fixtures.

Even if your property was not damaged and you are a small business owner or a private nonprofit, you may apply for a working capital loan from the SBA to relieve the economic injury caused by the disaster.

Economic injury disaster loans also are available for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and certain private, nonprofit organizations of all sizes suffering substantial economic injury; there also are interest rate loans that do not exceed 4 percent.

Currently, the SBA is offering the disaster loans in several Northeastern states after damage from Hurricane Irene and Lee. To find out if your business is eligible, contact www.sba.gov.

“When the Secretary of Agriculture issues a disaster declaration to help farmers recover from damages and losses to crops, the Small Business Administration ­issues a declaration to assist eligible entities affected by the same disaster,” said Frank Skaggs, director of SBA’s Field Operations Center East in Atlanta, in a press release.[/gn_note]

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