The entire nation and a global-viewing audience focused on the U. S. Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina dealt an unimaginable blow to New Orleans and cities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. More than a thousand people lost their lives, entire neighborhoods disappeared and many businesses are gone forever, after one of the worst storms in history decimated the region.
Three weeks later, predictions of massive destruction again filled the airways as Rita, a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, took dead aim on Galveston/Houston. And so it was that at 6:00 a. m. on Thursday, September 22nd, my wife, three kids, one Golden Retriever and I joined two million others on the roadways in the largest evacuation ever of a metropolitan area. Our normal four-hour drive to Fort Worth stretched to 12 – for thousands it took upwards of 20 hours – as every major thoroughfare backed up for miles.
Prior to departing, we prepared our home for the worst…rearranging furniture, boxing fragile items and securing windows and doors…not knowing what we would return to eventually. We also packed up our office – computer, phone, files and all – so our coaching work could continue regardless of where we settled. With limited space in our minivan, we took one box of personal keepsakes – from my son’s sports autographs, to my daughter’s American Girl doll, and our wedding album. Deciding what to put in our box was an emotional experience, knowing the potential loss of what we would leave behind.
Success Handler Action: Is your small business prepared for the possibility of a major catastrophe? What if you had 12 hours to evacuate, or what if a tornado appeared instantly and damaged your building? Having a disaster plan, just in case you ever need it, will save you time and money. Use these questions to get started thinking about your small business, and the important items that need to be included in “your" box:
~ Who are the key members of your team that will “pack" your box?
~ What is the likelihood your small business could operate from a remote location?
~ Where are your critical business papers…and how quickly can you access them?
~ When will you send employees home to prepare for their own evacuation?
~ How will you protect your equipment, computers, inventory, files, etc. ?
An insurance agent told me one of his customers called that Thursday morning and said, “We’ve boarded up our home and are leaving now. Let’s add flood insurance to our policy. " The agent responded, “That’s fine; you’ll be covered in 30 days. " Once the flood waters are approaching, it’s too late to expect an insurance company to take on the responsibility of insuring you. Similarly, that’s not the time to start thinking about the disaster plan for your small business.
Success Handler Action: During the evacuation of Galveston, one of the network news reporters was showing merchants boarding up their locations. He came upon one man who was doing nothing, and asked, “Aren’t you going to prepare for the hurricane?" The business owner responded, “Sure I am. " Then he pushed a button…and pre-fitted protectors lowered from above to cover all the windows and doors. This business owner clearly planned ahead. Here are five things to consider in advance of the day your small business faces disruption from anything Mother Nature sends your way:
1. Make sure you know the location of all your insurance policies.
2. Keep a current list of home/cell phone numbers of every employee.
3. Have a record of the account numbers for your bank and credit cards.
4. Determine how you will handle accounts receivable, accounts payable and payroll.
5. Decide who will return as part of the initial response team to get you operational again.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be remembered for many years for the destruction they unleashed on several states. None of us can prevent natural disasters; however, you can take steps to protect yourself for the day you may be in the eye of the perfect storm. Deciding what’s in your box is an exercise well worth the effort for your small business.
Addendum: Hurricane Rita turned north in the final hours before making landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border, sparing Houston of any major damage. Our return trip took less than five hours, and the only inconvenience was cleaning up a yard filled with pine needles and a few fallen branches. We were lucky. For all those in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas displaced by these two severe storms – and residents of Florida who faced four similar situations last year – life is forever changed.
Copyright © 2005 by Success Handler, LLC. All rights reserved.
The Coach, David Handler, is the founder of Success Handler, (http://www.successhandler.com ), and specializes in helping small business leaders find clarity and take action. He understands the challenges of running a business, because he’s been there – as a small business owner, franchisee, franchisor, corporate leader and trainer. Much like sports coaches, his coaching will show you how to compete on a level playing field in your industry.