Are You Prepared For A Natural Disaster?

Mendo Complex Fire

I remember getting the email like it was yesterday. The neighbor emailed me, “YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE. CALL ME.” As I made the dreaded call, I got the news that no home owner wants to hear. Your rental house is on fire and the neighbors called the fire department. My husband left immediately, for what seemed like, the longest 2.5 hours ever. Waiting to hear what became of my beloved house, the one we brought home our first born to, the one I started my business in, the one that allowed us to move to our dream property on the coast, was the longest 2.5 hours of my life. When my husband called, it wasn’t to lament over the fact that the tenants blew up and then burnt down the garage. No, his words were much simpler; Do we have our papers in order?

My only regret in writing this article is I finished too late. I began it back when the recent Mendo Complex fire broke out. While last years Tubbs Fire put CA on the map, this years hit closer to home. Literally and figuratively. It started sooner, with more vengeance and fuel. It burned out of control quicker and longer. It has been classified the largest fire in CA history. Luckily we came out unscathed, as property owners and human beings. Yet, between starting this article and finishing, tragedy has hit all over the world and affected many of my clients. It took Hurricane Lane in Hawaii, for me to realize, we don’t have time to not be prepared.

I shrivel at emergencies, medical, mother nature or the unexpected. Oddly enough, my husband is a Fireman. He is my absolute opposite in accepting that emergencies happen, things don’t go as planned and life changes on a dime. I have now realized his training and preparedness gives him a leg up from all of us who don’t know anything. I have fully accepted that thinking I am going to reenact a scene from The Walking Dead when mass destruction hits, is not going to work, nor be successful.

I am grateful to live in a country that provides this knowledge and support for me. While yes, I complain four times a year when I have to write that dreaded check for something “estimated”, I am grateful for people who dedicate their lives to saving mine, the kids, the house, the dog and rescued me when I was lost late one night in SF, South of Market. Without the SFPD, I might still be lost.

However, when thinking of your next most important asset…your business, who protects that? Who ensures things will be okay when the next big one is going to hit or it is burning down as your employees run out the back door? What about when an earthquake so gigantic begins shaking that all you can really do is “duck and cover”?

YOU. Yep, the one that has CEO, President or whatever kitschy name you titled yourself and put on your business card. Preparing your business for the next catastrophe is not only smart thinking, it could be the only thing you come out alive with.

Beyond our business’s being our lively hood, they are an asset to be nurtured and invested in, slowly over time building equity and eventually becoming a return on investment so big, one should cash in when the right time is given.

Yet, it goes beyond the money. Your name, brand and reputation are all on the line. Your employees depend on you to know what to do and your community expects someone to step up and help out when everyone else is floundering.

What have you done to prepare your business for your next emergency?

Insurance: While the fires in Santa Rosa, CA still burned houses to the ground, victims were calling their insurance companies only to learn their unknown, biggest fear. They were underinsured. According to United Policy Holders, a consumer based advocacy group in San Francisco, 70% of fire victims were under insured. This left them unable to rebuild their homes and lives. This left them with mortgages they couldn’t pay and lives they could not replace. For many, it left them with no choice other than to leave, for some, the only life they ever knew.

It is vital that if you do not understand what your policy covers, to call your agent and have him/her break it down for you. Remember, they work for you and are a resource to help you understand what you are paying for and what you are not. While it may be unreasonable to carry the level of insurance that would cover replacing your entire business, protecting yourself to the degree that would allow you to carry on with a life you need is important. Work with your agent to find a balance that works for you and your business.

If the time ever came that you would need to call upon your agent, make sure you feel secure and supported by an agent who cares. It may be time to consider not only changing your policy, but even companies.

Paperwork and Storage: When our tenants burnt down our house and my husband needed insurance information, fast, I was happy to know where it was and how to access it. Staying organized is important and having these accessible in multiple forms (paper, electronic, cloud) covers you in a variety of instances, if in fact, everything burns down.

When you have 5 minutes to grab what you want, don’t let it be silly things like papers. Electronic, cloud based storage systems allow us to stay focused on what is most important in times of emergency.

SBA: The Small Business Administration offers Disaster Relief services that range from counseling, support and financial aid if the time comes that you have to rebuild. Go here and find your local office.

Small Assets: While a building burning down is a pretty major loss for any business, we forget to think about all those “small assets” that keep our business’s running day to day. Trucks, tractors, lifts, tools, refrigerators, lights, hand trucks, computers, printers…the list goes on an on. If you do what I discussed with your insurance agent, you will learn that many of these small assets are not covered under your normal insurance polices. Many business’s last year got the unfortunate news to not only learn they were underinsured on their building policies, but they had no coverage for all the assets that help them do business everyday.

Make a list of what would be necessary to get back up and operating and ensure it is covered.

Employees: The single most important thing you can do is being prepared. Being able to get back and up and running, will ensure that your employees have a job and paycheck to come back to. When someone looses their entire life, knowing their job is in tact can be the most comforting thing you can provide them.

Yet, if your business takes a big hit and the doors may be closed longer than anyone can wait for, ensuring that you provide letters of recommendation and referrals will help your employees get back on track with their careers as quickly as possible.

While I would never wish a natural disaster on anyone, riding out the big one is a whole lot easier when you know you are ready for it.