The Atlantic Hurricane season has a different meaning for people who live and work in mainland Currituck County and on the Currituck Outer Banks of North Carolina.
While major storms in the Atlantic Ocean have the potential to ruin vacations for millions of visitors, those powerful systems can completely devastate local homes and businesses. Most of the people who choose to live and work on the mid-Atlantic coast understand that they have front row seats for a severe weather season that spans from June 1 to November 30.
But not everybody is prepared.
Stacy and Joel Justice have seen what bad weather and disasters can do to a business. Joel and Stacy are the owners of Bluewater Restoration, a Currituck company that specializes in putting people’s lives and property back together after tragedy strikes. Stacy Justice was interviewed for this article.
For many years, Stacy ran Bluewater Restoration locally to allow Joel to chase storms in other areas. Joel loved chasing storms, heading into major disaster areas, tackling restoration projects up and down the eastern seaboard, and facing completely unknown obstacles.
Joel then brought back hard-earned experience in what powerful storms can do and how to handle many difficult aftermath scenarios. Joel, along with teams of restoration employees, sifted through acres of devastation from New Orleans to the Gold Coast.
But even more upsetting than witnessing all that damage and ruin was knowing that many business owners could have done much more to prepare for the worst.
We asked Stacy to share some practical advice about what business owners can do to minimize loss, speed recovery and protect everything they worked so hard to build.
She was especially fond of one four-letter word: PLAN.
“Most of us who own small businesses are already risking it all, you know? Small businesses are already stressed,” she said. “The only choice is to plan, plan, plan, plan, plan."
If you were counting, that was five uses of the word “plan.”
Clearly, Stacy Justice doesn’t believe in “winging it” when it comes to covering your assets. Plan now and plan for the worst.
“If the worst-case scenario happened, how long would you be out of business? Who can afford to rebuild their business?” she asked. “There's no excuse for lack of planning.”
There’s a wise old saying that the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago. The second best time is today.
Likewise, when it comes to generators, the best time to buy was last year or last month.
The second best time is today.
“I don't care what size business you have,” Justice said, “you need to have a backup generator. Do not wait any longer. Go get one now.”
She doesn’t advocate settling for a bargain model.
“When those hurricanes start popping and it looks pretty serious, you don't want to depend on some rinky-dink thing,” she said.
Loss of power can cripple a business, but without electricity, you're also at the mercy of a much more devastating adversary.
"If you don't have power running to a building, you have 72 hours before it starts to amplify a microbial ecology. That's it," Justice said. "At 68 degrees, above 60 percent humidity you’re going to get visible microbial infestation as well as MVOCs (microbial volatile organic compounds - smell) in 72 hours.”
SOME NOTES ABOUT GENERATORS
Diesel generators may last longer if serviced properly and may provide a longer run time. However, diesel fuel costs more than gas and may be more difficult to obtain after a major event. Gas generators are the best due to availability, gas is easier to obtain, fuel cans are more often for gas. A gas generator that has a longer run time with noise suppression is preferable.
If you own the business structure, consider the one-time purchase of a generator system like a GENERAC that will provide power for the entire structure. Smaller generators like 20-amp gas units are portable and can be used for powering lighting and/or a refrigerator or freezer, but is very limited. Assess your post-disaster electrical needs and base your generator purchase on those.
Prices can range from under $1,000 to closer to $20,000. How much you spend and how much generator you need depends on your business. A small retail shop might only need enough power to keep the lights on, but larger restaurants need to consider the cost of losing thousands of dollars of refrigerated and frozen inventory.
It seems like a no-brainer, but not all insurance is created equal. Here's Stacy’s advice for beefing up your coverage ASAP...
“If all you’re dealing with is an 800 number, be prepared for some very unhappy moments. It’s not going to a be a nice time at all. Insurance is getting worse because they're figuring out how to cut, cut, cut their coverage. Your only advocate is your agent. Go and visit your agent, go and praise your agent.”
“Seriously consider specialty insurance that expands your coverage for business contents and wind and hail, those kinds of things. Consider business and utilities interruption insurance. You want to have flood insurance. I don't care if you don't think you need flood insurance, it's worth it. It's a catastrophic policy, it's better to have it then not to have it.”
“Take the time to think about how much it would really cost to rebuild? If you are a tenant, make sure that the owner of the leased property has that coverage. Because if something happens, suddenly you're out on your ear, scrambling to find a home for your business.”
“You want to have all of that policy information and contact information on hand. If you've got a claim, file it immediately. It's going to take forever to get that reconciled.”
If you haven't reviewed your insurance in the last twelve months, go now. Make the appointment today, because whatever you settle on, it can be at least thirty days before it kicks in.”
A business continuity plan is critical.
Thinking about what happens before, during and after a hurricane or other natural disaster is a great way to identify the specific vulnerabilities of your business.
That’s why Stacy believes that building a “what if?” strategy BEFORE the 60-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains hit makes more sense than waiting until the Weather Channel sends a remote crew to your front door.
“Their job should be to monitor the approaching storm and keep everybody well informed. They will also keep people informed post-disaster.”
“You need to protect your products, your goods and your physical assets. If you have a building full of collectibles, antiques or original artwork, is it a better idea to move those pieces out of harm’s way? Do you have temporary storage? Who's gonna be there to move it? Can you do some moving before the storm?”
“We had a client with three feet of water in their building who needed to move $1 million worth of inventory quickly out of their space. Unfortunately in some communities, you're not allowed to bring in a storage pod, so we needed to scramble to figure out a Plan B.”
“Maybe you don’t run a store or a restaurant, but your office complex gets wiped out. Can you run your business from home or an alternate location? If you are considering using a 'remote' location, you may want to have your IT go in ahead of any event and upgrade that remote location to be 'business ready.' Think about what you need to keep your business running if your primary location is damaged or destroyed.”
“Who's coming in during a storm? Who's not? What employees are going to stay no matter what? You've got to designate and make plans. Because if you don’t have a plan and everyone evacuates... you're done. It happens all the time.”
“How are we going to communicate when we need to communicate? How do we communicate if we can’t communicate? If cell service goes out, everyone needs to be on the same page. You need to establish and agree on a plan, so that even if nobody has a working phone, your employees already understand what happens next.”
“This is important. You're gonna need a Patton or somebody to really take charge of the situation. If you've got a general-type in your company or someone who wants to be Napoleon, they should be your go-to. You’ve got to have someone who's going to make it happen no matter what.”
“Getting everyone on the same page can give you peace of mind. You need a plan for severe weather, fire and even for responding to violence in the workplace. It’s an unfortunate fact of life these days, but businesses need to be prepared for every kind of worst-case scenario.”
We’ve touched on insuring your items, having a plan for moving what can be moved, but Stacy stresses that there is even more you can do to keep your “business stuff” safe.
“In 2018, no business should be losing vital data on a flooded hard drive or waterlogged filing cabinet. All that data should be stored on a virtual cloud source. That way, even if you lose your stuff, that information is still accessible.”
“A simple solution is getting a waterproof box or safe for vital documents that you may need access to immediately. Remember, without electricity or internet service, you’ll still need to reach out to insurance agents, vendors and customers.”
“Make sure you have easy-to-access information about backup vendors. Because your go-to suppliers just down the road? They're going to be wiped out too. You might have to reach out farther than usual. With big storms on the East Coast, most of the time, if it's hitting here, it's hitting everywhere. The whole mid-Atlantic region is affected.”
“If the storm's coming in, you better have photos and video. Take digital photo documentation (with date and time stamp) of every aspect and angle of the structure and-----VERY IMPORTANT---- the INVENTORY. Keep copies of the files stored in the cloud, a fire/water proof vault and even send them to your insurance agent. Keep records of the costs of the inventory, shipping, storage, etc. All of your stuff could be wiped out, the building could be in shreds, but you'll have your pictures.
"They are evidence if you ever need to defend a claim in court. It could take three years to get paid, but if you've got all your ducks in a row and you've got your pictures and footage, at least you’ve made your case.”
It can be overwhelming trying to prepare for everything that could go wrong. Small business owners already have a full plate. In fact, most have several full plates which they try to keep spinning on long poles like some kind of frantic circus act.
But the good news is that local business owners aren’t alone.
Stacy is a fierce advocate for soliciting professional advice and assistance.
“They are your go-to in every state. Any time during the year, you can talk to them and discuss what they can do for your business from finding low-cost loans to helping you develop your contingency plans. They are such a wonderful, wonderful resource. They have boots on the ground and have gone through many disasters and helped countless businesses get back on track.”
“These are North Carolina’s and Virginia’s one-stop sources for all things emergency related. Their websites are loaded with page after page of information. It’s a great resource for both business owners and residents. Go check them out NOW!”
“Besides filing your insurance claim, a restoration company is going to be one of your first calls. It might even be the call before you file the claim, because even though there are at least 50 restoration companies in the Hampton Roads region, they're gonna be swamped. It wouldn't hurt to establish a relationship now.”
Ask restoration companies about a pre-event agreement. That puts you on their A-list. Whether they have it or not, you want to get yourself on the top of their list, because you're gonna be waiting. You're gonna be waiting and waiting and the more rural the area, the longer that wait is going to be.”
Stacy Justice admits that she’s the type of person who over-insures and over-prepares.
But she’s also quick to point out that it’s never failed her.
“It never ceases to amaze me how many people, especially being down here, literally feet from the ocean… don’t think about how to prepare their business for a hurricane. We're all busy and we've all got our heads down trying to run the business and turn a profit, but this is important.”
"These strategic conversations need to be had with your business partners, key employees and insurance agent in advance of a major event. If you do get caught unprepared, document everything and salvage what you consider your highest priorities."
“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I know it sounds so cliché, but that’s what it’s about. I've been in restoration for a long time and I’ve seen some really horrific things. The last few years it's been really bad and, as you know, it seems to be getting worse.”
“You've gotta have your eyes wide open and fend for yourself. You have to think for yourself and strategize for your business, because no one else is gonna do it. No one else cares as much as you. You cannot prepare enough. It's not something you do on the first day of Hurricane Season, it's something you do all year long. I know I sound like a broken record, but I guess sometimes, people only understand after it happens to them.”
Here are a few bonus links to valuable safety and recovery information for residents and businesses in Currituck County.
The Currituck County Citizen Alert system enables the county to provide you with critical information quickly. Stay informed about severe weather, unexpected road closures, missing persons and evacuations of buildings or neighborhoods. Sign up for free online to receive time-sensitive messages to your home, mobile or business phone. REGISTER FOR CURRITUCK ALERT
The county's Department of Emergency Management is a great local resource for information before, during and after severe weather events or any other type of crisis. Visit them online at the county website for links to resources, a map of evacuation routes or contact information for Emergency Management Director Mary Beth Newns and Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Rebecca Gay.
We've compiled a page with links to local, state and national disaster resources.