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What to consider with natural disasters

Posted by Kyle Smith on 29th Mar 2015

Whether it is tornado, hurricane, blizzard, fire, or zombie apocalypse you should always have a plan for your small business. I good rule to live by is that it is not a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen. Below are some examples of real small business owners getting faced with a natural disaster.

For five years, Luis Yepéz owned and operated Mainstream Global, an international computer product reseller business located in Lawrence, Massachusetts. With a staff of 12 in a newly expanded space with expensive inventory, he was not prepared when the Merrimack River overflowed. As the water was rising at a rate of up to 8 inches per hour, there was nothing to do but turn off the lights and return when the flooding subsided. Luis dealt with destroyed inventory, unshipped orders, and concerned employees while he faced the realization that his business might never recover.

"It happened at about 6:20 p.m. We had left the building at 6. Most of us were on our way home. The way I drove, I drove through the corner of the storm. I could see it off to the left hand side, not a true tornado, but with the color of the sky and what they were saying on the radio I knew they were having pretty bad weather over there. "I got about halfway home and security called. So I turned around, headed back. By the time I got back, 15 minutes after that call, as I was driving into downtown I could see all these strobes, fire alarm strobes, going off in my building. I knew something was wrong, but it was dark, so I still didn't realize we'd taken a direct hit."

This was March 28, 2000. The 650,000-square-foot, 37-story multi-tenant high-rise in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, at the time known as the BankOne building, had just been hit by an F3 tornado. The glass facade, made of 4-by-14 foot panes, was 80 percent smashed, sucked out, or still falling as Raymond Knight, then the building operation supervisor, made his way back to his building.

"As I got closer I could see glass falling," he says. "Matter of fact, a computer monitor had fallen out of one of the windows and crashed into the corner of my truck. That woke me up and let me know that it really wasn't safe outside."

There were still a few hundred people in the building, remembers Knight, now a facility manager for TTI, but all had been safely evacuated to the basement, as they'd followed the instructions of the brand new voice evacuation system. The new fire sprinkler system had also been activated, as walls sucked out by the tornado sheared off sprinkler heads. The central system had sent an alarm to the fire department, which responded with a phone call. "They were not responding due to citywide emergency, so we were on our own," Knight recalls being told.

At the time, Knight worked for a third-party facility management company based in the area. Before Fort Worth set up perimeters and put downtown into lockdown, a couple vans of engineers from other facilities showed up at his door. Starting with the restaurant at the top floor, the team started going floor by floor, slowly working their way down, looking for people, turning off sprinklers, and securing the building.

These are just a few stories of small businesses that have been confronted with disasters. The question that they were all faced with was what am I going to do now. Unfortunately no amount of planning can 100% prepare you for every disaster that might strike. Every business should at minimum know the options that are available to assist with recovering.