The world-famous scout motto ‘Be Prepared’ rings true in the Atlantic hurricane season. Preparation can be the difference between a business shattering loss and a nuisance loss – and I think every business owner will agree which scenario they’d rather deal with.
Every business in a hurricane-prone area, like Florida and Louisiana, should have a disaster plan. That can’t just be a few notes scribbled on a piece of paper which is then filed away to collect dust in a locked cabinet. It needs to be actionable tenets that are learned by all employees and are adaptable to Mother Nature’s most changeable wrath.
Seasoned claims veteran, Jeremy Wheeler, is no stranger to extreme weather. As president at the Miami / Fort Lauderdale-based adjusting firm Wheeler, DeFusco & Associates, he’s helped tons of Florida businesses pick up the pieces after major catastrophe events, like Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne in 2004, and the string of storms in 2017 which included the deadly category 5 Hurricane Irma.
“I’ve been in the claims business for many years, and it becomes more apparent during every one of these storms that even the best disaster plans need to be adaptable,” Wheeler told Insurance Business. “We’ve had storms that were meant to come up the east coast, which then turned around and went up the west coast. We’ve had storms that were meant to be category one hit us as a category three – and they keep adapting.”
While keeping an eye on Mother Nature’s vengeful tactics, businesses should also pay close attention to mitigatory responses by local authorities and how those actions might impact their disaster plans. When Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne swept through Florida in 2004, they knocked the power out, thrusting many into total darkness. With the power down, many petrol and gas stations had no gas, which meant many people were immobile for two or three weeks – something that really impacted on the state’s commercial recovery, Wheeler explained. After that, lawmakers introduced a new rule that stated gas stations needed back-up generators so that they can continue to provide gas during a natural catastrophe.
“Businesses have to factor in these changes,” said Wheeler. “It used to be that employees had to be in the office to work on their desktop computers. Now, with the internet and the cloud, employees can work from virtually anywhere, so businesses should strategize around that in their disaster plans. They also need to look at things like having a back-up generator and having off-site computers.
“In 2004, when four major storms hit Florida, our plan at Wheeler, DeFusco & Associates, was to focus our operations from one of our offices (either Fort Lauderdale or Fort Myers) depending on where the storms hit. But of course, one storm would come through and hit Fort Lauderdale and then the next would hit Fort Myers, so we had to keep adapting our plan. We really learned the importance of having a proper plan and being ready to adapt that plan to what was happening around us.”
When a storm does hit, the immediate aftermath is the ultimate test of a business’s disaster plan. The effectiveness of the plan will depend somewhat on the extent of the damage, Wheeler noted. If ingress and egress to a business is totally impossible due to severe flooding, for example, it’s very hard at that stage for a business to do anything at all.
“Business-wise, my thoughts from the insurance side is that businesses should act as though they’re uninsured,” Wheeler added. “They should take all necessary steps to try and get back up and running, whether that involves getting into the building to try and dry it out, contacting insurance agents, borrowing a neighbor’s generator to get some power into the property or boarding up the place to prevent theft or further damages.”
Luckily for Wheeler and his loss adjusting peers in the catastrophe-prone state, there is one tool that’s giving Mother Nature a run for her money – technology. On the claims side, technology is expediting multiple processes, from event imaging through loss estimation and claims resolution. As Wheeler pointed out: “It’s changing at lightning speed.”