Editor’s note: Like many people who live and work in Puerto Rico, longtime contributor Terri Madden, owner of Sand Sea and Air Interiors Inc., has been deeply affected by the hurricanes. We asked her to write a column to help others learn from her experience.
When a disaster occurs, everything takes on a new meaning. The essential needs of food and shelter become primary not only for ourselves, but also for our loved ones. With world news at our fingertips, we read daily about tragic circumstances affecting both strangers and people we know. So…do you and your family have a disaster plan in place? Do you as a business owner have a contingency plan for your employees as well as your facility? If the answer is no, I hope this column will propel you to action. You never know when a disaster will strike.
The new normal
As I write this from Puerto Rico [Oct. 30, 2017], more than three million people are still in survival mode. It has been 41 days since one of the world’s strongest hurricanes on record made a direct strike on the “Enchanted Island.” Nine hundred and eleven people are confirmed dead and our borders may be closed indefinitely due to bacterial contamination or yellow fever epidemics. Airplanes carried more than 73,000 people to the mainland so far and airline tickets are currently sold out for at least three weeks. Electricity has only been temporarily restored to less than 10 percent of the island.
I am fortunate that my home and business were not completely wiped out. I have declined offers to “go somewhere” because Sand Sea and Air has employees and customers who depend on us. These days I am in survivor mode and I am not alone. Several other U.S. fabricators’ homes and businesses were also affected in 2017 by fire, flooding, snowstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Some were left with only the shirts on their backs, while others fared slightly better but are still dealing with the aftermath of a crisis, trying to pick up the pieces and plan their next steps.
Where to start
Ask yourself, if you had to quickly flee your home or business, what would you take and how easily could you let other things go?
Look around and evaluate your belongings. What would you put in your car or suitcase? Your pets, photos, a computer, documents, a few clothes, a passport, a cell phone? What could you leave and drive away from with a peaceful heart? Pause for a moment to evaluate and scale down your essential belongings. Get clear on your priorities!
Keep your business viable
Once the immediate hours or days of tragic events have passed, you may find that circumstances present themselves to strengthen you. Hopefully, you are better off than others and can lend a hand that will bless you twofold. But, if finding basic necessities like food and shelter is all you can do, then hour by hour pick yourself up.
At Sand Sea and Air, we worked the first five weeks by propane lantern light and wore bicycle headlamps to pattern and prep materials for current orders. We set up a temporary mobile office nearby in a facility with a generator.
We are still working on laptops to plan our next steps and keep batteries charged. We vacillate from frustration to a sense of accomplishment when we achieve even just one task in a day! Orders have been forthcoming as customers try to jump-start their lives and ask us to replace missing, broken or deteriorated items. I like to believe that we are better off than most, yet I can’t help but wonder at times.
The immediate aftermath
Be grateful if you are able to stay in your home or with family members or friends as you gradually pick up the pieces. We are accustomed to multitasking and doing things on deadline. When we are forced to a standstill, it can be extremely frustrating.
- Contact your family, friends and employees.
- Take photos of all damaged items and areas before doing any cleanup.
- Assess damages and obtain estimates for replacements or repairs.
- Contact your insurance company to file claims on personal property, vehicles, your business, etc. (You can be reimbursed for the contents of a home refrigerator up to $500 with no deductible.)
- Seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which offers an almost immediate relief payment ($500) deposited directly to your bank account for individuals who have had to leave their homes during a disaster. You can apply at www.fema.gov.
- If necessary, contact the Small Business Administration (SBA), which offers low-interest loans to businesses affected by disasters.
Picking up the pieces
- Establish a support network. Delegate one or two people to contact others. Keep distant family members and friends in the loop so they know how to help you.
- If possible, post updates on Facebook or WhatsApp to reach others quickly when you can’t connect individually.
- Let business associates know what you may need—they will want to help.
- Set up links to GoFundMe and other crowdfunding sites.
- Connect with organizations that offer help with small and large issues, including religious organizations, community groups, clubs, etc.
Help from IFAI, vendors and suppliers
In the hurricane season’s aftermath, sales reps and vendors such as Mike Hendricks at Keyston Bros., Derek Robinson at Glen Raven, Mike Sandercock at Quality Thread and Notions Company, Gregg Burrows and Patrick Howe at Wholesale Shades, Craig Zola at Herculite® and Greg Smith at Million Air have reached out to us offering assistance with discounted pricing, product care packages and samples. IFAI kindly posted an update on our situation in a member email news brief.
Ultimately, it is God, amazing friends, family and the encouragement of other IFAI members who are the web of support that gives me the energy and strength to survive. My heartfelt thanks to all of you!
Terri Madden owns Sand Sea & Air Interiors Inc. in San Juan, Puerto Rico. www.sandseaair.com.
- Review your coverage. Most plans cover the basics, yet ask yourself what you would do if your business is jeopardized and you cannot operate for one month or more.
- Coverage for fire and flooding may be an additional cost; evaluate the risks!
- Understand the limits of your coverage. Coverage for owners vs. tenants may differ and not cover the loss if you cannot operate for one or more months.
- Know your employees’ rights. Large companies can pay employees when doors are shuttered. What would you be able to offer?
- Have a current inventory list and know which items are covered during a disaster.
- When you plan your shop layout, know what type of situations could affect your investment. This includes flooding, fire, wind, rain, trees, billboards, signage or other nearby projectiles.
- Are your tables/storage areas constructed so that flooding doesn’t ruin materials and machinery? Are they easily protected or removable if necessary?
- Can doors and windows be secured with wood, sandbags or foam?
- Protect office computers and backup files.
- Protect customer files.
- Ensure you have access to your cell phones and chargers. What will you do if you have no signal or internet?
- Are vehicles filled with gas? Are they in a safe place to park?
- Do you have cash? What if banks and ATMs are unavailable?
Emergency kit items:
- Batteries of all sizes and types
- Flashlights, especially wearable types for head, USB rechargeable
- Drinking and reserve water
- Food that does not spoil or need cooking
- Emergency plan if separated or someone needs hospitalization
- Central location identified for family members
- Evacuation plan for weather hazards in your location
Make a short-term, mid-term and long-term contingency plan. Here are questions
your plan needs to answer:
- How will you determine if your business is safe and operational?
- If you have employees who depend on you for their paychecks, can you communicate with them to understand how they have been affected?
- Can they get to work? What if they can’t?
- What are their needs for basic necessities? How will you help them if you can’t operate?
- How will you connect with customers who have pending projects?
- How will you get materials?
- Would you be prepared to return deposits if an order was canceled, especially if you purchased the materials?
- What happens if client materials or items are damaged while on your premises?