Spaces   //   October 25, 2022

Hurricane Ian devastation puts spotlight on business storm prep

Florida is no stranger to extreme weather, and while Tampa-based ad agency PPK always has a storm protocol in place, Hurricane Ian, which recently devastated a broad swath along the Gulf of Mexico, proved unique as it was the first major weather event to threaten the area since the company transitioned to a hybrid work model.

Even though employees are not required to be in the office every day, ensuring their safety was a central concern of president Garrett Garcia as Ian approached the coast. “Our directive to all of our employees was to put their safety and well-being first,” said Garcia, whose agency has done work for clients like the Florida Lottery, Legoland and Firestone. 

PPK employees live and work all around Tampa Bay, putting them in the heart of mandatory evacuation zones in the event of deadly weather. “If you’re on the move or need to find safety, we don’t expect you to work,” as Garcia put it to employees. “Once you’re safe, assuming you have power or the internet we’re continuing to service our clients at the highest capacity possible.”

While forecasts had Ian’s sights set for Tampa, the city ended up being spared the worst. Still, PPK was ready. Garcia said account managers proactively communicated what was happening to clients before the storm so the company could continue to effectively manage expectations and deadlines.
Despite planning for what promised to be a historic event, many businesses were not so fortunate. Sectors ranging from tourism to commercial fishing got walloped. Estimates placed total personal and business losses as high as $75 billion, making Ian one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people suddenly found themselves jobless in the hurricane’s wake.

Government authorities came to the aid of Florida businesses, the most recent development being the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s small business emergency bridge loan program, which enables businesses affected by Ian to apply for interest-free loans of up to $50,000.

The impact of Ian put a spotlight on storm preparedness for businesses, involving everything from the protection of employees and property to insurance coverage.

“Whether due to weather or some other type of disaster, any occurrence that incapacitates a business will interrupt normal operations and impact the bottom line,” said Tampa-based lawyer K.C. Williams, who has represented business and property owners in insurance claim disputes for more than 25 years. Risk of business interruption, he added, “can be physical, virtual, reputational or financial and whatever the risk, it can and should be planned for.”

Interruptions due to weather might include structural damage to buildings, equipment damage, power outages, damage to infrastructure, and excessive wind or flood damage. Williams advised businesses to constantly update plans and resources to ensure the safety of employees and the continuity of operations. That may also involve coordinating with local communities. 

Modifications to buildings can be effective in mitigating property loss and business interruption during future events, as is strengthening structural systems to improve resistance to high winds, he added. 

“Whether due to weather or some other type of disaster, any occurrence that incapacitates a business will interrupt normal operations and impact the bottom line.”
K.C. Williams, Tampa-based lawyer.

And, early planning is essential. “Beat the rush and secure your supplies before a hurricane is even forecasted,” Williams said. Large items like water pumps, sandbags to stem rising water and power generators should be purchased as early as possible in the runup to hurricane season.

When it comes to insurance, meanwhile, many business owners do not realize that commercial property insurance may not cover all aspects of hurricane damage. For example, such insurance plans typically do not cover flooding, Williams pointed out, noting that flood insurance is available through the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Businesses should also be aware of the range of threats awaiting after a storm — from supply chain disruptions to criminal behavior. As Fred Burton, executive director of the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence, put it, “Post-hurricane security strategies are vital, as power outages, facility damage and the disruption of everyday activities can leave companies vulnerable to bad actors seeking to take advantage of the potential chaos of the moment.”

Florida is hardly the only place prone to extreme weather events. It was a decade ago this month that Hurricane Sandy, the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, hit the Caribbean and the East Coast of North America, wreaking havoc from Havana to Ontario. Rob Newbold, executive vp at Verisk Extreme Events Solutions, said that despite the lessons businesses have learned since then, coastal areas and the businesses and individuals that make their homes there remain vulnerable to weather disasters. Some of that risk, he maintained, is attributable to climate change, while an even larger issue is the development and population growth of the coast. 

Because of those factors, Verisk projects that catastrophes worldwide will cause an average of some $123 billion in insured losses per year — a significant increase from the average $74 billion in actual annual losses over the past decade. 

Newbold advised businesses to work with insurers to implement best practices for fortifying their assets. “Proactive mitigation,” he said, “plays a critical role in resilience to extreme events.”