With hurricane season coming, businesses prep for the worst

James Scarponi is co-owner of Harpoon Willy's on the Jersey Shore. Generators are essential for surviving hurricane season.
Source: Harpoon Willy's
James Scarponi is co-owner of Harpoon Willy's on the Jersey Shore. Generators are essential for surviving hurricane season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday released a below-normal forecast for this year's Atlantic hurricane season. But businesses aren't taking chances and are already making preparations.

The hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The agency forecasts a 70 percent chance of six to 11 named tropical storms, of which three to six could become hurricanes. There's also a 20 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.

For small businesses in particular, the storm forecasts are critical, as many find themselves unprepared for costly natural disasters. In fact roughly 40 percent of businesses that close due to hurricanes don't reopen, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Experts say planning ahead including management of offsite document storage and emergency kits is key. "The ability of small business owners to plan ahead and have some things in place will go a long way," said Jim Gustin, senior property specialist of Risk Control at Travelers Insurance.

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Other storm-related strategies can include pursuing an impact summary on how a storm could affect the business, and meeting with insurance professionals. Insurance coverage plans vary depending on location and type of business.

Sandy lessons from the Jersey Shore

For Harpoon Willy's, a restaurant in Manasquan, New Jersey, near the shore, the key to surviving hurricane season is having a plan for supplemental power. Backup generators are essential, said James Scarponi, who has co-owned and managed the business for seven years, including during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

"We make sure they run properly to protect our food," Scarponi said. "During Sandy, that was really our biggest impact—we saw the river come up about 11 feet and flood a lot of the surrounding businesses."

Having generators, which can cost thousands of dollars, meant the restaurant could remain operational. The restaurant even offered neighbors a place to watch the news, gather and stay connected during the devastating storm. And closing down for just one day would have cost Harpoon Willy's thousands of dollars.

Small business headwinds
Small business headwinds   

Scarponi also recommended keeping important documents outside the business in a separate location, and to have extensive data backups. That way if the power goes out, business record-keeping can keep running smoothly.

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But for businesses located directly on the water, like Charlie Barrett's Inn in Ocean City, Maryland, hurricanes mean everyone launches into action. Barrett has owned the small inn for 15 years and has survived three major storms.

"We batten down the hatches," Barrett said.

In this handout satellite image provided by NASA, Hurricane Irene is seen at 10:10 a.m., about two hours after it made landfall in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, August 27, 2011 in the Atlantic Ocean.
Getty Images
In this handout satellite image provided by NASA, Hurricane Irene is seen at 10:10 a.m., about two hours after it made landfall in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, August 27, 2011 in the Atlantic Ocean.

But sometimes Mother Nature wins. "During Sandy we saw a lot of flooding and mostly water damage—there's not much you can do about that once it comes up over the sea wall," he said.

Barrett said the inn's six rooms bring in a total of $2,000, which is a big loss for any small company. They also have their building inspected, and have their own plan in place for dealing with emergencies, something that Travelers' Gustin says is essential.

"Be prepared—just be prepared," Gustin said. "Hurricanes are an absolutely terrible force and we've seen how much damage we have seen in past. You really have to get your ducks in a row."

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