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Before Disaster Strikes: A Small Business Owner's Story

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Before Disaster Strikes: A Small Business Owner's Story

By JamieD
Published: June 14, 2010 Updated: February 13, 2013

A natural disaster can strike anywhere at anytime. Unfortunately, many business owners are not prepared when a natural disaster affects them. Luis Yepéz, a business owner in Massachusetts, knows all too well the dangers of natural disasters and the importance of effective disaster planning. Read on to hear his story and learn more about the disaster assistance resources available for small businesses.


When the Flood Hit

For five years, Luis Yepéz owned and operated Mainstream Global, an international computer product reseller business located in Lawrence, Massachusetts. With a staff of 12 in a newly expanded space with expensive inventory, he was not prepared when the Merrimack River overflowed. As the water was rising at a rate of up to 8 inches per hour, there was nothing to do but turn off the lights and return when the flooding subsided. Luis dealt with destroyed inventory, unshipped orders, and concerned employees while he faced the realization that his business might never recover.


Many business owners find themselves in a similar position after disaster strikes. What would you do if a natural disaster affected your business? Do you have a recovery plan in place? The reality is that you can never fully prepare for these situations but there are measures you can take to protect your business.


Facing the Aftermath

Unfortunately, Luis had very little disaster preparations in place when the flood hit. Although insurance covered some of the damage, he found himself having to make quick decisions on the spot with very little room for error. Everything was an issue - from finding an alternate location for deliveries to processing outgoing shipments to managing employees.


After the flood, Luis began his long journey back to being a fully-operational business. Because of his dedication to his staff, and their loyalty to the business, Luis paid salaries out of pocket to keep his 12 employees working. They were equally committed to the business's recovery and played a large part in its success. Without that commitment from both sides, Luis's story may have had a very different ending.


Picking up the Pieces

Regardless of how well or ill prepared you are for a natural disaster, the process of picking up the pieces is different for everyone. In Luis's case, he positioned himself at the right place and the right time and as a result he found a little bit of luck. In a partnership with the Small Business Administration, the local chamber of commerce set up several seminars to help local businesses with their recoveries. Looking for any help he could get, Luis attended hoping for answers.


The chamber relayed information on SBA programs that were available for business owners affected by disasters. Through the chambe;s help, Luis was able to start the proper paperwork and was eventually awarded an Economic Injury Disaster loan from the SBA. For qualified businesses that have been affected by natural disaster, the SBA offers low-interest, long-term loans. Note that these programs highlight available loans - not grants - so it's important to assess whether or not your business will be able to pay back what you receive. If done correctly, these programs can be just what your business needs to climb out of trouble as quickly as possible. Although the system is not perfect and often can get swamped numerous claims after a disaster, Luis had an extremely successful experience working with SBA and remains a proponent of their service to the community.


For more information, check out the Small Business Administration's Disaster Assistance portal.


Risen from the Ashes

After three solid months of recovery, Luis and his company were operating as usual. Since the flood, Mainstream Global tripled both sales and employment- an impressive feat for a company even without facing any hardships. Thanks to Lui-s perseverance and the collective camaraderie and help of his valued employees, he was awarded the Small Business Administratio's Phoenix Award for 2009. According to the SBA, the Phoenix Award is given to individuals and business owners who displayed courage, resourcefulness, tenacity and resiliency in the aftermath of a deadly disaster, and contributed to the rebuilding of their communities.


In this series of videos experts and entrepreneurs discuss disaster recovery and how to develop a preparedness plan to get your business up and running should disaster strike.


Prepare Now

Luis knows first hand that having a disaster plan in place would have sped up Mainstream Globa's recovery, and he has since implemented a plan of his own. Think about issues such as

  • Contacting your insurance company to find out your exact coverage
  • Calculating the financial effect (per day) a disaster would have on your business
  • Creating a detailed communication plan for your employees

Help from the Government

The federal government is aware of the potential disasters that plague many small businesses. Business.gov is dedicating the month of June to promote disaster preparedness and featured resources for business owners:

  • PrepareMyBusiness.org SBA has teamed with Agility Recovery Solutions to help small businesses with their preparedness planning. The result is an online continuity planning workshop where small business owners can access helpful tools, such as Jun's webinar entitled, '10 Steps to Business Preparedness'
  • DisasterAssistance.gov The governmen's disaster assistance portal provides citizens with pertinent information to help with preparedness and recovery of disasters. Here you can get help with developing a disaster plan and apply for federal aid that becomes available after a disaster. Visit DisasterAssistance.gov for more information on the services they provide.
  • Ready.gov In addition to providing emergency kits, planning assistance, and informative resources, Ready.gov provides business owners with the steps to create an emergency plan. For more information, visit Ready.go's business disaster preparedness portal.

If your business has experience dealing with natural disasters or if you have drafted a solid preparedness plan, please share your knowledge with the Community!

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