By David Sewell, Farmers Insurance Agent
Houston has seen its fair share of storms. We're no strangers to hurricanes, but when Hurricane Harvey barreled into Houston on August 25, 2017, it was different than other storms. The rainfall was just unbelievable, with more rain deposited over a larger area than had ever been recorded in U.S. history.
You couldn't see across the street once the downpour began, and not surprisingly, you couldn't get to the office either. I run an insurance agency and my team and I knew many customers would be affected by the storm and we needed to help them as best we could. I was in Houston for Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, but even those experiences couldn't fully prepare me for Hurricane Harvey.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the storm, I've been thinking about the insights I could share with other business owners who may someday face a disaster. For me, weathering the storm successfully included taking these five steps.
Be Proactive, But Stay Safe
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself, your loved ones and your home first. Then think about your business and your customers. For my team, this meant making ourselves as available as possible to help our customers throughout the storm. For you, that might mean working remotely or using co-working spaces if you can't get to your office.
On-the-Ground Tip: Watch out for unexpected dangers, too. Because of the flooding that came with Harvey, we had folks encounter snakes as they were trying to return to their homes.
Stop, Communicate and Listen
It's critical to connect and communicate whenever and however you can, so it's important to make a contingency plans ahead of time for how your team will connect and work out who will be calling whom. If calls aren't going through, try a text, or if that fails, try a web service. You can't plan for what services will be available or know what won't be available but having a game plan will keep you more calm in the moment.
On-the-Ground Tip: If your business involves helping customers in a disaster, often the best service you can provide is to listen. Even in the face of extraordinary circumstances, sometimes helping is simple--a genuine connection is all some people may need to start healing.
Turn to Technology
The good news about how Harvey was different from previous storms is that the technology was so much more advanced. During Hurricane Ike, I was taking claims and driving or walking a couple of miles away to a mobile operations center because all of our computers had crashed. When you're up against severe weather, mobility isn't always an option, but you may be surprised by how many tools you still have available to help make a positive impact for your customers.
On-the-Ground Tip: Communication is the most powerful tool you have on your side, and technology will help you keep it intact.
Narrow the Focus
The simple fact of any natural disaster is that you're not going to be able to accomplish everything. The key here is to not let what you can't do overwhelm what you can do. I call this narrowing the focus, and it's an amazing tool when you're in the midst of the chaos a natural disaster creates. Instead of thinking of every single thing that has to happen eventually, focus on what you can do now and what you're going to need to achieve that goal.
On-the-Ground Tip: If you want to get more done in the here and now, make a list of your top three achievable priorities. Knock them out, then start again.
As entrepreneurs and business owners, we should always show gratitude. But when your team shows up for you during a natural disaster, gratitude has to happen on an even deeper level. If you find yourself working through a similar situation, the best advice I can give you is to thank your team for their dedication and your customers for their understanding.
On-the-Ground Tip: Thank everyone in the moment, because they'll hear you, but do it again on the other side of the disaster, because then they'll be able to appreciate it properly.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey was unprecedented and has impacted those who were affected in profound ways. Reflecting on the experience, I'm thankful that my team and I came through the storm safely, and appreciate the many lessons learned that will help make us more prepared for whatever the forecast may bring.