Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane of 2018, is set to make landfall on the East Coast Thursday evening. More than one million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastal areas of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The category 4 hurricane packs winds of up to 130 mph, a strength not seen since Hurricane Hazel descended on the region in 1954. Understandably, business owners are on edge.
"We are boarding up our locations, storing our boats indoors. The ones we cannot fit indoors we are prepping the best we can," says Jason Ruegg, founder and CEO of Off the Hook Yacht Sales, a boat store chain based in Wilmington, North Carolina. "I am not really sure what we will come back to. My house is right on the [Intracoastal Waterway] and already the tides were almost in my backyard" on Monday, he says, adding that he's never experienced anything like it before. "Hoping to get back to Wilmington next week with intact inventory and a home that didn't float away."
No one wants to have to deal with a natural disaster, but with hurricane season now under way and storms Isaac, Helene, and Olivia looming, now's the time to review and possibly revise your contingency plans. Here are four top disaster preparedness tips, from coastal business owners who are used to battening down the hatches.
1. Alert your customers.
"When you're under the gun trying to get prepared, it's a lot of all hands on deck," says Shelley McPhatter, founder and CEO of BridgePoint General Contracting, a general contractor company based in Durham, North Carolina. Her business is only six years old, and this is the first time it's facing major disaster.
Since BridgePoint's projects involve construction, which you can't safely do if there are riotous winds and a raging storm outside, McPhatter is alerting her customers about how Hurricane Florence will impact planned schedules. She has also been in touch with her contractors, so they can work out how to continue the projects once the storm has passed. "We're going to have to be flexible; our clients are going to have to be flexible," McPhatter adds.
2. Devise an action plan.
Even so, you'll want to keep delays to a minimum. Elizabeth Gush, founder and CEO of Source Ortho, an online medical supplies and equipment seller based in Charleston, South Carolina, has plans in place for expedited shipments. She also has a backup system ready to drop-ship items in case FedEx and USPS stop running.
In addition, take steps to prep your warehouse and offices for potential weather incursions. Make sure computers are stowed far away from windows and products are secured on plastic bins and pallets. Gush further provides company phones to her employees so they can stay in touch during the storm and work remotely if possible.
"I hate this time of year; it is very stressful," she sighs. But planning is key. It helps to go through all of the logistics so you know what needs to be dealt with, she says.
3. Check your coverage.
Go over your insurance policy to make sure you know what it covers, and how much you're going to have to pay before it kicks in. "We have insurance with high deductibles," says Ruegg from Off the Hook Yacht Sales. With a $10,000 deductible per location, and four locations in North Carolina at risk, he's looking to shell out, at minimum, $40,000.
You may also want to take photos and video of all the measures and precautions you've put in place, McPhatter suggests. She adds that her teams are doing it on all of her jobsites. This way you will have evidence of your preparedness, should your insurance company request it later.
4. Expect widespread disruptions.
Even if your business is based far from Hurricane Florence's path, you may still feel its effects. Evan Cramer, co-founder and CEO of UCW Logistics, a Greenville, South Carolina-based third-party logistics provider, says this level of service disruption will have effects nationwide. "A shock like this to the system is going to push trucking rates up, across the board," he says, adding that he saw it happen after Harvey hit Houston last year. "What we thought was just going to be a week or two impact to [trucking] rates ended up lasting pretty much through the rest of the year. It ended up being a three- or four-month impact." Hurricane Irma, as well, he says, changed the national freight market and drove costs up.
Cramer has subsequently instructed his staff to factor higher trucking fees into all their quotes for the next couple of weeks. Indeed, he warns: "Don't underestimate the effects that [Hurricane Florence] has on general commerce."