How small businesses can ride out winter's threats

Many small businesses across the United States were caught unprepared for this winter's wrath, but that doesn't mean it's too late to try managing the problem.

Winter weather cold
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

Much of the country has been hit hard by heavy snowfalls, and the Northeast has dealt with abnormally icy temperatures. Boston, for example, has taken more than 100 inches of snow. Massachusetts has experienced 160 roof collapses in total since Feb. 9, according to a report citing the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The severity of the winter makes it more important than ever that businesses better prepare and mitigate the risks posed by the cold weather. And it's not that complicated.

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"It's all about planning," said Ronnie Gibson, chief engineer at FM Global, a Rhode Island-based mutual insurance company, who pointed out that a loss of revenue resulting from a disaster could be significantly greater than the cost of preparation.

Businesses should check their roofs and make sure they have access to them, Gibson said.

"Clearing large-building roofs is much more complicated than shoveling your driveway," he said. Many businesses incur losses during the winter because of structural damage, he added.

Gibson said that businesses should be especially watchful during idle periods of the winter, such as holidays. "If you can keep running during the weekend, I'd advise you to do so," he said.

Another factor to consider when preparing for harsh winter weather is heating, he said, advising businesses to install portable heaters in the event of a heat system failure.

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Nevertheless, many business owners think there's little use in preparing for weather risks. Fifty-two percent of full-time U.S. workers say they are not satisfied with their employers' readiness to deal with a winter storm, according to a poll commissioned by FM Global earlier this month. The survey had a margin of error of plus/minus 4 percentage points and was completed by 426 participants.

"A lot of companies don't think weather is a risk you can manage," said David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University.

But because of its relative predictability, weather is a risk that can be managed by businesses—unlike risks such as market volatility, for example.